Death On the Reik – The Return Voyage

Cubicle 7’s revised rerelease of the classic Enemy Within campaign for WFRP continues apace, with the emergence of the second wave of physical products for it. The first phase, Enemy In Shadows and the Enemy In Shadows Companion, provided a thorough 4th Edition update to (most of) the material that was originally issued back in 1st edition days as the first two episodes of the campaign, and collected together under one cover in various reprints (the most easily found these days being the Hogshead release of Shadows Over Bögenhafen). Now the same treatment has been given to Death On the Reik, with a hardcover of the same title giving the adventure itself and the Death On the Reik Companion providing supplementary material, “deleted scenes”, and some material of more general use even if you don’t plan to run the campaign itself.

It took me a while to warm to the original Death On the Reik, and in retrospect I think that’s because it looks like a very sandboxy scenario, with the PCs free to travel the waterways of the Empire as they wish, it actually has a very involved plot, but the original presentation of the materials on a strictly location-by-location basis made the expected itinerary of the PCs somewhat obscured even as the River Life of the Empire section provided a toolkit for a much more free-roving affair.

For this new edition, Cubicle 7 have made the interesting – and, I think, probably justified – decision to change up the presentation of information just a little. The actual adventure portion of the old material is given in the main Death On the Reik book, and any particular location in the scenario will get its full writeup in the logical part of that book, but the arrangement of information in the book gives a better idea of the “expected” flow of the campaign (as well as ample advice on what to do if the timeline diverges).

Meanwhile, the information and systems in River Life of the Empire have been placed in the Death On the Reik Companion, in which context they can be greatly expanded on and polished without worrying about page count in the main book. This, to me, seems extremely sensible, since I suspect in actual play of the original version the River Life section either got extremely heavy use (if your group got really, really into the whole “Renaissance canal boat Traveller” thing) or was almost entirely ignored (if your group just wanted to concentrate on the plot).

This arrangement of information, in particular, means that groups who just want to blaze through the Enemy Within plot with a minimum of sandbox roving or B-plot are absolutely free to do so – all they need to do is play through the Death On the Reik hardback and leave the Companion be. On the other hand, if you want to play through the campaign with much more freedom of direction and more secondary plots not related to the core thing, fold in the Companion – or if you want to run a game based around the river routes of the Empire but don’t give a fig for the Death On the Reik plot, grab the Companion and ignore the adventure book. There’s a combination that works for everyone. (Well, everyone who likes boats, that is.)

Furthermore, moving the River Life of the Empire section to the Companion helps make room in the main book for expanding on the main adventure. Most of the expansions are along the lines of those in Enemy In Shadows, in terms of smoothing over patches of the original which, in light of 30 years of play experience, feel heavy-handed or excessively on rails. There’s less “someone runs away and you can’t catch them” moments and more “someone runs away, catching them is really difficult, but if the PCs manage it here’s what may happen” moments, in general.

A more substantial addition comes in the form of a new final chapter, added on after the previous supplement left off, to better set up Power Behind the Throne. A long-standing issue with the Enemy Within campaign was that after dealing with the matters of Death On the Reik, the PCs are expected to go to Middenheim, where Power Behind the Throne takes place – but whilst there’s two handouts in the main adventure giving clues pointing in that direction, these are easily missed (and the Middenheim easily overlooked even if you find them).

In the Hogshead edition of Power Behind the Throne, James Wallis included a new prologue chapter – Carrion Up the Reik – to give the player characters more reason to go to Middenheim. This involves a carrot-and-stick approach – the carrot is a job involving making an overland delivery to Middenheim, the stick is burning the PCs’ barge to the waterline so they can’t keep using the boat.

I’ve gone over my issues with Wallis before (at tedious length), so I won’t thrash them out too much here. Suffice to say that as a scenario designer he can sometimes give the impression that he thinks a) players are nuisances who need to be treated in a heavy-handed fashion if they are not to zoom off in an unexpected direction, and b) if players zoom off in an unexpected direction this is an unmitigated disaster, rather than part of the appeal of the hobby to begin with.

Some might cite the barge thing as an example of that. However, in comparing the 1st edition and 4th edition versions of the Enemy Within materials so far, I think a tendency towards slightly heavy-handed railroading at the price of obnoxiously squashing the best-laid plans of players was a habit in early WFRP materials in general which, fortunately, the 4th edition stuff largely pivots away from. (An exception is the “grognard boxes” in the 4th edition books, which explain ways to hose players who use their memories of the 1st edition version of the campaign to their advantage, but frankly players making inappropriate use of out-of-character knowledge to have their PCs act on information they don’t have sort of deserve a hosing.)

Thus, whilst the additional chapter here is largely based on the first section of Carrion Up the Reik, the scenario shifts from “some bastard burns down the boat and there is 100% no way the characters can stop it, nuh-uh” to “someone tries to burn down the boat, they have a good plan and it will be difficult for the player characters to stop it, but in the event they do, here are some alternate ways to part them from their barge”.

The book even gives the option of just, uh, letting them keep the barge. If they want to go to Middenheim anyway, they’ll need to leave it in dock regardless. If they 100% don’t want to go to Middenheim you can either do the old Morrowind “persist in the doomed world you have created” thing and just have the empire go to shit around the PCs because they weren’t in the right place at the right time to stop the bad shit going down in Middenheim, or just hop off the Enemy Within campaign trail there. (After all, there’s nothing to say you can’t hop right back on it should the PCs ever go to Middenheim in future, once they’re tired of messing about in boats, and why disrupt the river fun if both you and your players are enjoying it?)

Other editorial decisions are more minor. The brief diversion to Delberz to meet one of the pregenerated PCs’ mentors is cut, since it was optional even in the original and the new version of the campaign makes the reasonable assumption that you’re almost certainly using home-rolled PCs, but the details of the mentor are provided in an appendix in Death On the Reik (along with some additional mentor NPCs in other professions) so they can be used for this training function if desired. The encounters with the Imperial Plenipotentiary and the Maria Borger, since they are not core to the plot of Death On the Reik and are essentially optional, have been moved to the Companion.

In addition, some material from the original The Enemy Within and Shadows Over Bögenhafen episodes that didn’t make the cut for Enemy In Shadows and its companion make a return here, as follows:

  • A good chunk of the old Geography of the Empire section has now returned – or been expanded on greatly – in the Death On the Reik Companion. Specifically, an updated and tweaked version of the Gazetteer of the Reikland table of towns giving their populations, major trades, wealth levels and so on is provided – likely because the details are most useful for the purposes of the trade stuff here – and a chapter on the Imperial Semaphore Service greatly expands the brief details on the Empire’s signal towers from that book. (It makes sense to put this here since one of those towers plays a significant role in Death On the Reik‘s plot.)
  • Some of the herbal material which hadn’t already been folded into the 4th edition WFRP core book is reproduced in the Death On the Reik Companion, since a herbalist plays a significant role at one point in the adventure and giving this material provides scope for them to “talk shop” with any PC herbalists.

The profile and cluster of adventure seeds surrounding the pleasure boat Emperor Luitpold, previously covered in Apocrypha Now! (and, before that, the Warhammer Companion) also gets an updated in the Death On the Reik Companion, and honestly this is probably the most sensible place for that to go. There’s new material in the Companion too – perhaps the most important being a rundown of who the Red Crown, an extremely significant faction in the scenario, actually are and how they differ from some of their peers in their particular area of interest, something which the original supplement glossed over almost entirely.

Death On the Reik and its Companion finds Cubicle 7 keeping an even keel as they navigate through The Enemy Within. Power Behind the Throne and its Companion are already out in PDF. From there on in they’re going to be steering into uncharted waters, since they have made the very sensible decision that Something Rotten In Kislev simply doesn’t fit as an Enemy Within episode (after all, it was never originally written as such) and are going to replace it with the much-planned The Horned Rat (plus Companion). With the fifth episode, Cubicle 7 follow the lead of Hogshead (and the fan consensus) in regarding the old Empire In Flames release as simply not being fit for purpose, and plan to put out Empire In Ruins and an associated Companion to round out the series.

Given the exceptional standards so far – both in terms of content and the gorgeous presentation of the physical books – I look forward to all these future ports of call!

6 thoughts on “Death On the Reik – The Return Voyage

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