Why I Like and Dislike “The Enemy Within” (and Other 1st Edition WFRP Adventure Supplements)

Whenever people talk about classic WFRP, one of the products which always gets mentioned is The Enemy Within campaign. Originally released between 1986 and 1989, the campaign is to WFRP what Masks of Nyarlathotep is to Call of Cthulhu – an extensive campaign released in the 1980s that gets regularly reprinted and talked up a lot, and is a reasonably iconic example of a particular style of play, but at the same time actually has a number of issues which have become more and more apparent in retrospect as best practice in scenario-writing has moved forwards.

In fact, poke WFRP fans a bit harder and it becomes apparent that most of them are actually more keen on the idea of The Enemy Within than they are with the campaign itself. Some parts of it are held to be of much higher quality than others, and in particular whilst opinions do (as always) vary the consensus seems to be that WFRP‘s various publishers over the years have never quite been able to stick the landing when it comes to delivering the full campaign.

A full Enemy Within release, in fact, hasn’t happened since the original issuance of the campaign from 1986 to 1989 – and the final part of the campaign, Empire In Flames, is generally held to be by far the weakest, failing to enjoyably handle the tonal shift involved in shifting from investigations of covert conspiracies to tackling an all-out crisis and presenting an excessively linear conclusion to the campaign. When Hogshead Publishing under James Wallis was reprinting the material, they made it known that they weren’t going to do a straight reprint of Empire In Flames, instead opting to write a brand-new conclusion – but of course that would involve designing a brand-new product, and with what his Kickstarter backers might refer to these days as “Wallis reliability” the product was delayed extensively and ultimately never emerged before Wallis threw the towel in, gave up the WFRP licence, and sold off Hogshead. Lastly, Fantasy Flight put out a product called The Enemy Within for WFRP3, but this was a brand new campaign using the original title – appropriately enough given that WFRP3 was an entirely different game using the title of a different system.

Another issue I have with The Enemy Within is essentially a structural thing, arising from its nature as a prototype of what Paizo would aptly call an “adventure path” – a long campaign in which individual episodes guide the players bit by bit over the main plot arc. The basic problem with presenting a long campaign made up of a series of episodes, rather than just a bunch of modular adventures which can be used by a referee as and when it makes sense in their campaign, is that long campaigns greatly exacerbate the issues with railroading which prewritten scenarios often run into. If you just publish a bunch of discrete adventures and allow referees to work out their own connections between them, then the outcome of any particular adventure doesn’t matter – if the results of adventure 1 means that it doesn’t make sense to run adventure 2, you can just skip ahead to adventure 3, 4 and 5, and come back to adventure 2 as and when it makes sense to do so (or use it with a different group entirely).

Conversely, for a long campaign consisting of a string of adventures, where you design adventure 1 to lead into adventure 2 and so on and so forth – with perhaps optional spurs going out here and there but with the main plotline still broadly progressing from point A to point B – you necessarily have to constrain the results of adventures earlier in the sequence so that you don’t end up in a situation where the adventures later in the sequence cease to make any sort of sense. You can call this an “adventure path” all you like, but it’s basically a railroad, and whilst a railroad isn’t necessarily a bad thing if that’s what everyone is excited to try out at the same time I still find I prefer a short adventure which gives the group a lot of freedom in terms of how it resolves to a long adventure which doesn’t.

The Enemy Within would seem in some respects to be a classic example of a campaign which not only gets caught up in this issue, but also actually gets the whole “player freedom” thing wrong. Due to the nature of an adventure path, you’d usually want the results of the earlier adventures to be more restricted, whilst later on you can be a bit freer until in the final scenario, since it’s the end of the campaign, you can be entirely free and loose with how things pan out. As it stands, the outcome of Shadows Over Bögenhafen – the second adventure in the sequence, and the first full-length one (with the opening movement The Enemy Within, AKA Mistaken Identity being more of a prologue) actually gives the referee a decent amount of freedom in deciding how things go (though my main criticism there is that you are essentially told to pick a good or bad ending based purely on referee fiat, rather than giving really strong guidelines on how to judge whether the PCs have done enough to stop the threat), whilst one of the complaints about Empire In Flames was that it was by far the most linear of any of the Enemy Within adventures.

This isn’t the only instance where freedoms given earlier on in the campaign end up having to be taken away to make later adventures work; Carrion Up the Reik, a new episode added to the Hogshead version, is infamously inserted mostly to burn down a barge the PCs might potentially acquire earlier in the campaign, so as to shut down their freedom to go off doing a barge-based trading-focused campaign like some sort of WFRP version of Traveller. In an infamous article defending the burning of the boat, James Wallis talks about how this was necessary to get the players to the next segment of the campaign rather than working their barge, but he assumes that running a campaign where the players are early-Renaissance merchant types travelling about on a barge would necessarily be boring as shit, which I think says more about James Wallis’ paucity of imagination than it does about that campaign concept in itself.

The thing is, though, this is the trap that writing for a multi-episode campaign gets you into: one episode failing to lead naturally into another is a problem from that perspective, even though as far as I am concerned from the actual gaming table perspective it doesn’t matter to me whether the outcome of a particular adventure leads naturally into a specific other adventure, because I would rather run the sort of adventure which the action so far in my campaign has naturally led us to than force the campaign to march in lockstep down an adventure path we’re increasingly diverging from. That said, it’s clear that from the point of view of someone who is invested in the party following the adventure path, the discontinuity between Death On the Reik and Power Behind the Throne is a problem. Thus, The Enemy Within campaign not only carries with it one of the structural issues of adventure paths, but also takes exactly the reverse of the right approach to handling it, leading off with relatively unconstrained adventures before radically trimming back the players’ freedom as opposed to the reverse.

Perhaps part of the issue arises from the fact that the various parts of the campaign were written by different hands, and not only did the various design teams have different styles but they also seem to have not entirely taken onboard what the other designers were doing with their own parts. The initial parts of the campaign up to and including Death On the Reik were penned by the team of Phil Gallagher, Graeme Davis, and Jim Bambra; the discontinuity between that and Power Behind the Throne could be explained by the latter being written by Carl Sargent, whilst Something Rotten In Kislev is credited to Ken Rolston with Graeme Davis (which I take as meaning that Rolston, as an outside designer, was given this playpen to play in well outside of the Empire and then Graeme Davis had to massage it to make it fit the Warhammer canon), whilst Carl Sargent did Empire In Flames.

To be honest, the only part of Enemy Within that’s really retained my interest is volume 1 of the Hogshead reprint, Shadows Over Bögenhafen. This consists of the original from the original Enemy Within set, plus the Shadows Over Bögenhafen adventure. As far as the Enemy Within set goes, that had its own adventure (now retitled Mistaken Identity) which released on its own I suspect would be rather disappointing, since it’s largely a prologue designed to motivate the PCs to get stuck in with the action of Shadows Over Bögenhafen (though the adventure does a nice job of offering alternate ways of getting the PCs involved so you can skip Mistaken Identity completely if you want to). However, as the debut adventure set in the campaign sequence, The Enemy Within also provided a welcome expansion on the setting material on the Empire, building on what was provided in the WFRP core book appreciably and enriching the setting greatly as a result.

As for Shadows Over Bögenhafen itself, the adventure more or less presents the archetypal example of “scummy Old Worlders discover a monstrous conspiracy in an Imperial city, which the adventure also provides a pocket description of” which exemplifies the approach to designing a WFRP adventure most people associate with the Enemy Within campaign. Indeed, as well as many later adventures both for WFRP and the various Warhammer 40,000 RPGs following a similar approach, many of the subsequent episodes in The Enemy Within largely boil down to repeating the Shadows Over Bögenhafen formula.

As such, I’m kind of inclined to run it largely as a standalone adventure, since some of the railroady bits in it can be ignored if you don’t feel any particular need to continue to the next part of the campaign, and to be honest I tend to feel that if you’ve played through that, you’ve pretty much covered the archetypal Enemy Within experience, and as a result I don’t see much need to cover the rest – especially when the Shadows Over Bögenhafen set is a nicely complete adventure plus a fat chunk of Imperial lore in a single convenient package.

Cubicle 7 have, nicely, put out the Hogshead reprint of Shadows as a PDF on DriveThruRPG, so if I’ve piqued your interest that’s a nice, affordable way to get your hands on it. In the long run, they intend to put out a new version of the Enemy Within campaign for WFRP4, with the episodes tightened up and revised in the light of the subsequent three decades of game design knowhow and with pointers on ways you can vary the material if playing with gamers who’ve encountered the original. That’s an impressive undertaking they’ve set, and I’d be very interested to see if they succeed – but at the same time, I also hope they don’t make The Enemy Within too central to their approach to putting out adventures, since it exerted a long shadow in the WFRP1 days and some supplements suffered from that.

The Restless Dead, for instance, was essentially a 1989 odds-and-sods collection disguised as a cohesive campaign, I suspect because Games Workshop thought that people wanted more campaign stuff and therefore wouldn’t want a release which was just a bunch of standalone adventures. In addition, they seem to have attempted a fool’s errand of providing guidance on how to provide each of those adventures either as a self-contained thing, or as part of the Restless Dead saga, or as additional episodes in the Enemy Within sequence. This desire to tie everything in to The Enemy Within is really weird – it’s transparent bandwagoning on a bandwagon that Games Workshop itself owned – and the mass of “Here’s how to run this adventure in different contexts” guidance clutters up the supplement and makes you bored and unenthused before you even get to read up on the adventures themselves.

The thing is, I consider this sort of thing enormously unnecessary. I think most referees are perfectly capable of stringing prepublished adventures if they want to, or to find some justification for getting their players from one adventure to another, unless their campaign has hit such a situation where it would be really unnatural and weird for the PCs to become involved in the adventure in question – in which case a referee should be smart enough to just run a more appropriate adventure instead. Instead, within the bowels of Games Workshop someone, somewhere, got really hooked up on the idea that all published adventures and campaigns must be potentially usable with each other somehow, with the result that the supplement ends up cluttered up with a load of crap which any halfway competent referee would be able to work out for themselves just fine.

Then again, perhaps The Enemy Within gets talked up a lot because WFRP1 otherwise doesn’t have many especially memorable adventure releases for it. Under Games Workshop’s own auspices the various episodes of The Enemy Within consisted of most of the adventure material they put out for WFRP; after 1989, they relegated most WFRP-related publishing to Flame Publications, a new imprint dedicated to tabletop RPGs must as Black Industries was later on, but the material they put out tended to be less celebrated.

Death’s Dark Shadow by Carl Sargent is liked by some, and it’s interesting how it’s based around this little town, but a) the way Sargent sets out the town as being on an important trade link between the Empire and Tilea means that it actually kind of doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense that the town is as small as it is and b) the main adventure here, the culmination of the action, is basically a Scooby Doo plot.

There was also the Doomstones campaign, but many find that tonally speaking those adventures are a bit off and don’t really capture the WFRP style they are fond of – and that’s no surprise, because actually the Doomstones adventures were originally released as third party D&D adventures under the name of the Complete Dungeon Master series, having been homebrewed by the creators of the Tortured Souls fanzine. Perhaps the main issue is the predominance of combat and dungeon crawling in the campaign – not that WFRP is necessarily a zero-combat game, but fighting foes in the sort of numbers that are arrayed against you here to the extent that you are expected to will absolutely wipe out the average party unless the referee does that infuriating thing where they play the NPCs like disposable dunderheads for the sake of avoiding a TPK.

As far as Hogshead’s tenure goes, most of the stuff they put out consisted of reprints of material, with only a trickle of genuinely all-new Hogshead-brewed material coming out before James Wallis pulled the plug on it.

Personally, I am greatly looking forward to seeing what Cubicle 7 do with WFRP4. With lines like The One Ring they have shown that they have a really sharp idea of how to develop and support a game line, and the likes of their previewed artwork for their starter set and core book reveals that the general atmosphere they are going for seems to be a refreshed and updated take on the WFRP1 approach. Hopefully, they will be able to put out a game line which is fully supported, like WFRP2 once, and doesn’t have its supplement line dominated and bent out of shape to the extent that The Enemy Within dominated early WFRP1 releases.

4 thoughts on “Why I Like and Dislike “The Enemy Within” (and Other 1st Edition WFRP Adventure Supplements)

  1. A.M. Pietroschek

    Tastes vary, but I enjoyed reading your blend of article, rant, and review. Something rotten in Kislev was an adventure with some potential, after SoB, but my last WFRP gamemastering is more than 2 decades ago by now… Much like original KULT it had a unique streak, and, as always, the mentally disturbed and the zero-social-skilled stormed in, pretended to be the originals, and spoiled it all. True roleplayers are actually much like Jedi, going hermit or secret coven, as the diseased mob of egomaniac wanna-be’S is only outmatched by the number of completely & utterly (No Monte Cook mentioned) superfluous morons who consider themselves game designers & brainiac of the moment.

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