Supplement Supplemental! (Forsaken Systems, Lost Litanies, and Sigmar’s City)

Occasionally I end up looking at supplements where I don’t have that much to say about them individually, but I do have more to say about them in aggregate; that’s when I run a Supplement Supplemental article. This time around, it’s a bit of a Warhammer special, since I’ve finally received delivery of some hard copy goodies from Cubicle 7 for Wrath & Glory and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Let’s take a look and see what Papa Nurgle’s brought us…

Forsaken System Player’s Guide (Wrath & Glory)

Though the Wrath & Glory system – the new Warhammer 40,000 RPG to replace the plethora of similar-but-different games published during the Fantasy Flight Games era – has plenty to recommend it, the original release of the core rules, managed by Ulisses North America, had its issues. As well as some major sticking points with the system, there was also the issue that the default background of the game – the Gilead System, a cluster of worlds cut off from the rest of the Imperium by the opening of the Great Rift – was only lightly touched on, despite extensive material having apparently been prepared for it.

The Cubicle 7 rerelease of the core rules already went a long way towards fleshing out the Gilead System material and providing better pointers on how it was intended to be used in play, and that process continues with the Forsaken System Player’s Guide, a supplement which almost all Wrath & Glory referees and players will find something of interest in.

As well as providing deeper background on the worlds of the system, the supplement also gives a rundown of the local factions and a brace of patrons associated with them – with each patron having their own Frameworks associated with them. In Wrath & Glory, your Framework is your party concept – the thing which has brought your characters together to work as a unit – and brings with it some game mechanical advantages which helps make sure that flavour is reflected in their capabilities. The inclusion of all of this makes it significantly easier to run a wide variety of different campaign concepts within the Gilead framework.

For those for whom the default setting holds little interest, there’s still plenty to enjoy here. As well as rules on Ogryn, Ratling, and Kroot PCs, there’s also a generous number of new Archetypes, with the ranks of the Sororitas, the Space Marines, the Imperial Guard, and the Adeptus Mechanicus expanded particularly far. This makes sense, since despite some xeno and chaos factions being in the mix the Gilead system really feels like a place that’s optimised for Imperial-aligned adventuring parties, but it also means the book will be very useful for the vast majority of Wrath & Glory games, especially if the group is especially keen to play a game focused on one of those factions – between these Archetypes and those in the core book you’re quite well-served for options at this point.

Alongside some new equipment and psyker powers, the book is rounded off with a new system for Endeavours – an optional rule which lets you track what your PCs have been doing between missions, and perhaps come away with a little extra edge for your next mission as the result of a previous endeavour.

The various Warhammer 40,000 RPGs in the past have followed a model where after the core book came out, there was usually a fairly generalist supplement which was so useful that everyone was likely to get it anyway – from the Inquisitor’s Handbook for Dark Heresy onwards. (It also seems to be an accepted form of RPG publication in general: get your truly essential stuff in your core book, then put out a grab bag of the nice-to-have stuff which couldn’t quite make the cut as your first supplement.)

Cubicle 7 have followed that tradition, and Forsaken System Player’s Guide is that supplement for Wrath & Glory. If you want to use the official setting for the game, it’s a no-brainer. If you want more granularity in terms of the options for Sororitas, Mechanicus, Space Marine, or Imperial Guard PCs, get it. If you want a worked example for how you might adapt the various major Imperial factions of Warhammer 40,000 to your own homebrewed section of the galaxy, you should absolutely consider this. I would only not recommend it if you were intent on running the game core book only; if you are in the market for Wrath & Glory supplements at all, you will want this one.

Litanies of the Lost (Wrath & Glory)

Another problem with the Ulisses-era Wrath & Glory material is that the adventure material wasn’t up to much – the one adventure anthology they put out, in particular, seemed to be written without a clear understanding of how the game’s Tier system works.

Litanies of the Lost attempts to correct this, offering a clutch of adventures directed at characters of Tier 1-2. Clearly, Cubicle 7 are sensible enough to realise that if an adventure anthology tries to cram in material for all Tiers of play, then any particular PC group will only likely be able to tackle a small fraction of what’s in there, so it’s better if adventure collections target a narrower band of tiers so that the material therein can be more widely applicable (since if your characters can handle one adventure in here, they should be able to handle most of them).

The adventures are all set in the Gilead system; whilst the Wrath & Glory core rulebook material should have you covered, having the Forsaken System Player’s Guide will enhance these. The first adventure, Grim Harvest, does a good job of following through on something the Forsaken System book already did a good job of: namely, making it clear just how dysfunctional and riven with infighting the Imperium is. There’s an unfortunate tendency of some Warhammer 40,000 material to inadvertently buy into the Imperium’s own propaganda; here, the dystopian Imperial system is depicted not as Harsh But Necessary, which is where a lot of this issue arises, but Harsh And Unhelpful, since the situation the PCs face would have been much easier to deal with (and likely would not have required their intervention) had the different Imperial bodies been working together and not sliding towards civil war.

I was slightly less impressed with Vow of Silence, whose central conceit seems slightly contrived in order to set up a Die Hard-esque situation. Dark Biddings is somewhat better – it’s a little linear, but it’s the first scenario I’ve ever seen for a Warhammer 40,000 RPG which recognises the setting’s potential for Paranoia-esque double-crosses and darkly humorous snafus. Indeed, the final mission – Duty Beyond Death – is a horrific investigative dungeon crawl where the main source of horror is the Imperium’s own practices surrounding Servitors.

On the whole, then, as well as upping the standard when it comes to Wrath & Glory adventures (and, indeed, adventures for any of the Warhammer 40,000 RPGs), Litanies of the Lost also leans into Games Workshop’s recent decision to re-emphasise that the Imperium are not the good guys and do not represent an admirable solution to the problems of the setting – and indeed the fact that product was in development well before that statement was issued suggests that it’s part of a broader course correction which is highly welcome.

Altdorf: Crown of the Empire (WFRP)

The city sourcebooks for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay‘s 1st edition were justifiably revered, despite the first of them originally being an accident: Carl Sargent went overboard detailing background material for Power Behind the Throne, so much of his Middenheim material was parcelled out into a separate product, at first called Warhammer City before going through various reprints and titles and getting the title it is now best known as, Middenheim: City of the White Wolf.

Regardless of name, it ended up being not just a very handy tool for anyone running Power Behind the Throne (either by itself or as an episode of The Enemy Within), but also provided a rich environment for WFRP play even if you never touched a prewritten adventure. By contrast, the Hogshead-era Marienburg: Sold Up the River was more consciously designed from the start to follow a similar model, and more or less nailed it, opening up a fascinating new port of call and making good use of the independent city-state’s potential. (It’s certainly much better-regarded than the associated adventure book, the rather haphazard The Dying of the Light.)

Subsequent WFRP publishers, however, steered away from city sourcebooks. Most of the 2nd edition line was developed by Green Ronin and published through Black Industries; that edition’s setting-oriented sourcebooks focused on the nation-state or species-wide level, with city writeups being conserved for adventure modules, in which context they could never run to the same length as Middenheim or Marienburg. After they took over the line, Fantasy Flight Games put out their third edition of the game, which used a very different release model which largely focused on selling expansions to the range of card deck components available and on prewritten adventures.

Cubicle 7, however, have made it clear that they are looking to 1st Edition WFRP when it comes to the atmosphere and style of 4th edition, and in keeping with that they’re back to making city sourcebooks. Naturally, their update of the Enemy Within campaign has included a revision and update of the classic Middenheim sourcebook, but now comes Altdorf: Crown of the Empire, a product which is simultaneously a Cubicle 7 original and something which draws deeply on the setting’s rich lore.

It’s completely logical that Altdorf would be high on the list of cities worth profiling. It’s not merely the seat of governance for the Empire in general (and the Reikland specifically, due to Emperor Karl Franz also being Grand Prince of the Reikland and ruling the region directly), but it’s also home to its greatest university, the Imperial School of Engineers, and the colleges of magic, and it’s the focal point of the cult of Sigmar due to being his birthplace, and it’s a major trade hub – with all the cosmopolitanism and all the notable gaps between haves and have-nots that implies. As such, it’s no surprise that on an in-character level it is one of the most (if not the most) important cities in the Empire.

On top of that, a bunch of adventures already involve visits to Altdorf – you visit it plenty during the Enemy In Shadows and Death On the Reik phases of The Enemy Within – so a book covering it isn’t an expenditure of time on an out-of-the-way corner of the setting which most WFRP campaigns will never touch – it’s covering a major location in the default region that the majority of WFRP games will focus on.

As such, botching Altdorf would have been deeply embarrassing for Cubicle 7. Luckily, nothing of the sort has happened; if anything, they’ve really pushed the boat out in order to do the place justice. This much is obvious when you first look at the book: it’s a great big chonker, weighing in at some 224 pages. (By contrast, the 4th edition version of Middenheim weighs in at only 160 pages.) This already makes it the largest supplement released to date for the 4th edition of the game.

In terms of content, it’s absolutely stuffed with information. Some of it is gleaned and compiled from bits of Warhammer lore past – the rundown of knightly orders that was trimmed from Enemy In Shadows appears in a somewhat revised and expanded version here, for instance, where it’s a bit more logical (since the orders in question all maintain a strong presence in Altdorf, but don’t actually play much of a role in that adventure). Those with a watchful eye will smile at some of the bits of truly old lore nodded to – such as the passing reference that Karl Franz’s recent emotional fragility and slightly more tenuous grasp on power may be due to the trauma suffered during the incident recounted in Drachenfels.

At the same time, it’s useful to have all this Altdorf-relevant information assembled in one place, and even more useful to have it filled out with such rich, flavourful new details as are offered here. You want courtly politics? You get a rundown of that. You want street gangs, cults, espionage cells, conspiracies, and faction-ridden revolutionary movements? Got ’em. You want to know the place’s history, major cultural figures, or just a rundown of notable local holidays and the practicalities of visiting and living there? That’s covered. You want an extensive set of interesting and notable sites in the city’s various districts? You have a ton of those. You want to a little beyond Altdorf proper and get some details of interesting nearby sites – or the horrors that lurk below the city? That’s here too, yes-yes. And all of these things have ample adventure hooks associated with them.

They’ve really got the atmosphere down too. The tone of the Warhammer Fantasy setting shifted somewhat over the years, as the scuzzier and shabbier Empire of the 1st Edition WFRP era was pivoted in a somewhat more epic direction. (The clash-of-superheroes tone of some of the End Times material exemplifies this.) One of the nicest things about 4th Edition WFRP is that Cubicle 7 seem to have been given their head and allowed to present a version of the Old World which diverges somewhat from the emphasis taken by the wargame, much as WFRP and Warhammer Fantasy Battle felt like rather different takes even back in the day.

This is in stark contrast to, say, the 2nd Edition era, when apparently the writers had to deal with mandates set by Games Workshop intended to make the game take into account changes to the setting’s tone and status quo that had developed in the wargame. It no doubt helps that Games Workshop is no longer selling a wargame set in close proximity to the era of WFRP; the new Warhammer: the Old World game which is in the pipeline looks set to be based on the Age of the Three Emperors, centuries before the default starting period for WFRP, so it seems unlikely that Games Workshop would have much reason to want Cubicle 7 to shift the style of WFRP to fit that when it’s less of a headache for everyone to let the two games be their own distinct things.

The handling of Karl Franz in this book is a good example. Whereas in the latter days of Warhammer Fantasy Battle, Franz was regularly riding about on his griffin bopping other major heroes on the head, here he’s a much more reclusive figure. This, of course, is in keeping with the “something’s up with the Emperor” plotline which weaves its way through The Enemy Within, and which subsequent Warhammer Fantasy Battle lore more or less ignored – but the fact that Cubicle 7 got Games Workshop’s licensing people to sign off on this suggests that Games Workshop remains happy to support Cubicle 7’s take on how WFRP should present the setting.

By contrast, as I note above there seems to have been some attempt made to ensure Wrath & Glory supports recent setting changes and stylistic shifts in the Warhammer 40,000 setting – but Warhammer 40,000 is a current breadwinner, not a legacy property. How long Games Workshop will continue to support WFRP‘s 1st edition-inspired creative direction is another question – after all, it only takes a policy shift at Games Workshop to suddenly make the approvals process for WFRP products trickier. Still, right now I really feel like we’re living in a golden age for WFRP, especially if you like the blend of horror, fantasy, and dark comedy which was the hallmark of 1st edition, and excellent products like Altdorf offer evidence that this is the case.

5 thoughts on “Supplement Supplemental! (Forsaken Systems, Lost Litanies, and Sigmar’s City)

  1. The depth and tone of Cubicle 7’s line of WFRP supplements makes me wish all the harder that they’d taken the time to give the core system (and rulebook) a longer polishing pass. So much of the game feels like a first draft; great ideas and solid basics, but badly organised, with too much bumf and too many odd little rules to keep straight while running it.

  2. Great reviews (as always). It’s fantastic to hear that Altdorf adheres to the tone Cubicle7 has been trying to maintain rather than going off on flights of high fantasy.

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