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.
The Enemy Within is a campaign which is legendary for being potentially daunting but quite rewarding to run, and was a cornerstone of the 1st editionWarhammer Fantasy Roleplay line. Cubicle 7 have been steadily working through the process of putting out a definitive “Director’s Cut” of the campaign for their new edition of the game; in terms of what’s released in hard copy, I’ve covered the first and second episode (and their associated Companion volumes) previously.
Now we get to the part where Cubicle 7 must handle Power Behind the Throne, legendary as being one of the more complex episodes of the campaign, in part because of the richness and depth of its setting – the city of Middenheim. Detailed for 1st edition WFRP not just in Power Behind the Throne but also a standalone city supplement – the first that WFRP received – Middenheim, in-character, sacred ground to the Cult of Ulric. Arguably, it’s also sacred ground to long-term WFRP fans, a city which many campaigns have extensively explored.
So, how does Cubicle 7’s treatment of the city stand up? Is it a place worthy of a revisit – or to visit for the first time, if you’ve not been before – or has the rock of the White Wolf been desecrated?
Middenheim: City of the White Wolf
Cubicle 7’s idea of matching their Enemy Within volumes with companion volumes full of side-adventures, setting material of more general use beyond the immediate scenario, and further bonuses arguably follows past precedent. Back when he originally designed Power Behind the Throne, Carl Sargent ended up cooking up so much setting material on Middenheim that Games Workshop balked at putting it all in the campaign. Instead, much of the setting material was separated out and put into a separate product, originally called Warhammer City before being given the current title in reprints.
Cubicle 7 might have gotten away with just making the Power Behind the Throne Companion a reprint of Middenheim, but they’ve gone the extra mile, keeping the Middenheim volume as its own thing and producing an entire separate Companion for Power Behind the Throne. This is probably a good call. Thanks to Middenheim having been the only major city supplement for a good long chunk of the game’s existence – it took 12 years before Marienburg: Sold Down the River offered a comparable city setting for the game – it’s become a well-established and well-loved part of the setting, and has doubtless been used for a bunch of campaigns which otherwise never touched the Enemy Within stuff. Making this the Power Behind the Throne Companion would not only likely mean losing most of the stuff which we do get in the Companion, but also risks a great standalone supplement for the game being overlooked.
That said, the new supplement doesn’t ignore The Enemy Within entirely. It explicitly presents the situation in Middenheim as it exists just before the start of Power Behind the Throne. If you don’t intend to run The Enemy Within, you can just take this situation and run with it; if you are planning on incorporating it (or just Power Behind the Throne) into your campaign, then useful pointers are provided to highlight which situations and NPCs need to stay in place before Power Behind the Throne kicks off, as well as some suggestions as to what might be going on in town after Power Behind the Throne wraps up.
Another appendix provides some expanded character gen rules; the core WFRP 4th Edition rules tend to assume Reiklander PCs, and whilst they’re broadly useful across the rest of the Empire, the rules here offer a way to make human characters who better reflect the local culture of Middenheim and its neighbouring Provinces of Middenland and Nordland. Between this and the setting material incorporated – featuring deep dives into each district of the city and the surrounding lands besides – you could run an entire Middenheim-focused campaign with just the WFRP core book and this, which is exactly what the original Warhammer City supplement delivered.
Sometimes you read a game supplement which is worth taking note of, but isn’t quite substantial enough to waffle on about at length. When that happens to me, I make articles in this series. This time around, a WFRP release and a couple of tasty treats for Delta Green.
Archives of the Empire Volume I (Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay)
This is presumably the first of a series, the idea seeming to be to package up small amounts of material on WFRP-relevant subjects in broadly thematically-related collections – kind of like Hogshead’s old Apocrypha Now collections, only a bit more focused. This first Archives of the Empire is broadly based around diversifying the coverage of the Empire. First up, there’s a useful section giving a rundown of the various Grand Provinces of the Empire, as they exist just prior to the events of the Enemy Within campaign. (There’s a promise that the final Enemy Within volume – Empire In Ruins – will give an update detailing what the lie of the land is once the campaign concludes.)
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.)
So, a while back I did an article looking back at Arcane‘s Top 50 RPGs list from back in 1996, as polled among their (primarily UK-based) readership. At the time, I said that no truly comparable list had been produced since, but I’ve recently become aware of Tabletop Gaming magazine’s June 2018 piece on the Top 150 games. This includes board games and card games, but RPGs are healthily represented there – in fact, the top game on the list is an RPG. It’s also a UK magazine which feels in some respect like a present-day update of Arcane with a wider remit and some somewhat deeper insights, and the list was also based on a reader vote.
So, I thought it would be interesting to extract just the RPGs from that list to get a “Top RPGs” sub-list, and compare it to the Arcane list. Perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into it – the readership may well not be that similar – but it’s interesting to think about, right?
The physical copies of Cubicle 7’s new Wrath & Glory rulebook have now emerged. For those who aren’t up on the backstory here, a quick summary: after Fantasy Flight Games and Games Workshop’s licensing arrangement died a death, the RPG rights to the various Warhammer settings were up for grabs. Cubicle 7 took the fantasy-based ones, and as well as Soulbound, their new Age of Sigmar RPG, they have brought out a delightfully flavourful 4th Edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.
Ulisses Spiele, however, took the Warhammer 40,000 RPG licence, and rather than keeping the lights on for the mass of different 40K-themed RPGs that Fantasy Flight had supported – Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, Deathwatch, Black Crusade, and Only War – they decided to put out an all-new game, Wrath & Glory, with a system intended to cover as many aspects of the Warhammer 40,000 universe as possible rather than going for a series of more focused games as Fantasy Flight had done.
With the design and development process handled by Ulisses North America, the first version of Wrath & Glory offered a promising start. The basic concept of tiered archetypes corresponding to different iconic Warhammer 40,000 character concepts, with the different tiers spanning power levels from low-grade chumps to top-tier superheroes, was basically sensible; furthermore, the designers made the sensible decision to not continue with the WFRP-derived system of the previous Warhammer 40,000 RPGs, which had always struggled a little to handle more powerful characters (WFRP having very much catered to the low-power end of the scale).
That said, the Ulisses Spiele release of the game had its issues. The production values – particularly compared to both Fantasy Flight’s previous offerings and Cubicle 7’s WFRP material – felt a little lacklustre, a couple of ribbon bookmarks not quite hiding the slightly thin paper quality. Some of the art looked a little off; some of the game mechanics seemed either poorly explained, poorly tested, or outright poorly understood by the designers. (Dark Tides, the sole adventure pack released for the game, seemed to assume that characters would be advancing in Tier at a much faster pace than suggested in the core book.) A number of card decks were issued alongside the core book, which seemed to strongly hope you would make extensive use of them, despite some of them being a little half-baked.
In general, a lot of small things seemed to be a bit off, which added up bit by bit to give the impression of a product rush-released in a hurry. In addition, the core rules felt rather bland and thinly stretched-out, with not much meat in terms of setting material – an annoyance to many fans, since the plan had apparently been for the game to be a significant way to showcase what’s going on in the Dark Imperium (the chunk of the Imperium now cut off from the Astronomican’s light) but a bunch of the material developed by the Black Library’s authors for the book didn’t make the cut.
A mixed reception was followed by an abrupt disappearance – after the initial slate of products was released, there was a dearth of announcements of new material, previously-announced supplements didn’t seem to materialise, and everything got ominously quiet at Ulisses’ end. Fans noted that references to the game seemed to be disappearing from Ulisses’ website, and Ulisses didn’t show up with the rest of the Games Workshop licensees at 2019’s Warhammer Fest.
I suspected at the time that Ulisses North America had overextended itself, taking on a product it wasn’t ready to do justice to, and had decided to prune things back. This may be correct, though I note that since then UNA are planning to put out a new edition of Fading Suns, and I wonder whether there might be an issue there. Whatever the behind-the-scenes story is behind UNA, Cubicle 7, and Games Workshop agreeing to rearrange things like this – as the IP owners there is simply no way this switcheroo happened without Games Workshop’s approval at the very least, and it’s very possible they initiated the process in the first place – the fact of the matter is that Cubicle 7 has how consolidated all the Warhammer RPG licences into their hands, and with the release of the printed version of their revised core book, the game is effectively getting a second edition.
The new book is not just a spruced-up reprint of the original; the game has had a root-and-branch rewrite and reorganisation. The system is broadly the same – you can take any of the (extremely limited) amount of support material that Ulisses produced and use it with this edition of the game no problem – but a lot of the criticism of the original release has been accounted for, and further rounds of feedback from the initial PDF of this revision was taken into account in the print run. Some terminology has been changed to better reflect the underlying intention, some sections have been expanded and clarified, other bits have been yanked outright.
As well as putting out the initial releases in their Enemy Within reissue, Cubicle 7 have also put out a couple of fresh new products for 4th edition WFRP lately: here’s an overview.
Around the release of 4th edition WFRP, Cubicle 7 put out a bunch of PDF-only adventures on DriveThruRPG set around Ubersreik, the city that the Starter Set is based in. This seemed like a good deal for everyone; from Cubicle 7’s perspective, it’s another chance to sell old timers on the Starter Set for the sake of the Guide To Ubersreik booklet in there, for beginners who’ve played the Starter Set it’s a neat source of additional support, and for old hands it’s some fresh WFRP material that ties in nicely with the new Ubersreik-based plot and isn’t just a revision of stuff they already own. Everyone wins.
Cubicle 7 hadn’t been planning to do hard copies of the material, but there was enough demand to issue this compilation of the five adventures (plus a new sixth one). The artwork in the book tends towards simple black and white pieces in comparison to the more lush artwork of, say, Empire In Flames or the core book, but this is largely down to the status of this book as an unplanned compilation.
The first two parts of the Enemy Within, The Enemy Within and Shadows Over Bögenhafen, are shorter than the other parts and closely connected; the adventure in Enemy Within is basically an extended bit of setup for Shadows. It’s no surprise, then, that the two were compiled together in most reprints – first as Warhammer Campaign, then (along with Death On the Reik) as Warhammer Adventure, then in 1995 under Hogshead’s auspices as, slightly confusingly, Shadows Over Bögenhafen.
Enemy In Shadows is Cubicle 7’s new update of the campaign for 4th edition WFRP, which has laid fallow over the whole run of the 2nd and 3rd editions. (3rd edition had a campaign released for it called The Enemy Within, but it’s a completely different scenario which happens to touch on the same themes.) It’s part of a “Director’s Cut” reissue of the entire campaign, overseen by original designer Graeme Davis, with each of the five volumes of the campaign having “DVD extras” in a separate book, such as the Enemy In Shadows Companion for this one.
One especially nice thing is that as well as planning Empire In Ruins – a brand new ending to the campaign to replace Empire In Flames, which by and large nobody is especially satisfied with, they’re also doing The Horned Rat as a replacement for Something Rotten In Kislev, which had previously slotted into The Enemy Within between The Power Behind the Thone and Empire In Flames but which is generally agreed to be not really anything to do with the main Enemy Within plot and better treated as a standalone Kislev campaign.
I’ve previously discussed insights we can get from Arcane magazine’s Top 50 RPGs feature, but there’s one other feature from the magazine which I think has aged particularly interestingly. Rather than being presented in a single article, though, it unfolded over the span of the magazine’s existence.
This was the monthly Retro feature, each instalment of which offered a one-page retrospective of an old game, by and large (with a very few exceptions) one which was well out of print by the time. This is interesting to look back on now because when Arcane was being published the hobby was some 21-23 years old; this year it’s 46. In other words, more time has now passed since Arcane magazine ended than passed between the emergence of D&D and the appearance of Arcane. It’s interesting, then, to look back and see what games were considered to be old-timey classics from that perspective, and how things have developed since.
Arcane, a short-lived British tabletop gaming magazine from Future Publishing which ran from December 1995 to June 1997, is a name to conjure by for many gamers of around my age. I came to the hobby after White Dwarf had become a Games Workshop in-house advertising platform, and just as Dragon was on the verge of dropping its coverage of non-TSR RPGs altogether; that meant I got a brief taster of TSR having a broader scope of coverage, and missed out on the golden age of White Dwarf altogether.
With other RPG-focused gaming magazines available in the UK either consisting of patchy US imports or a few local magazines published on a decidedly variable basis (whatever did happen to ol’ Valkyrie?), the arrival of Arcane was immensely welcome. Sure, even by this early stage the Internet was already becoming an incomparable source of both homebrewed material and cutting-edge RPG news, but much of that was in the form of Usenet and forum discussions of variable quality or ASCII text files. To get something which was informative, read well, and looked nice, print media was still just about where it was at.
Truth be told, taking a look back at Arcane in more recent years I’m less impressed than I was at the time. It took largely the same approach to its own subject matter (primarily RPGs, with some secondary consideration to CCGs – because they were so hot at the time they really couldn’t be ignored – and perhaps a light sniff of board game content) that Future’s videogame magazines took to theirs, particularly the lighter-hearted PC Gamer/Amiga Power side of things rather than the likes of, say, Edge. That meant it focused more on brief news snippets, reviews, and fairly entry-level articles on subjects than it did on offering much in the way of in-depth treatment of matters.