Empire In Ruins, But WFRP In Fine Shape

The emergence of hard copies of Empire In Ruins and the Empire In Ruins Companion sees Cubicle 7’s “Director’s Cut” version of The Enemy Within campaign for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4th Edition come to a close. The Enemy Within project has been one of the most welcome aspects of the new edition; though the original first edition releases were justifiably well-regarded, they were also very much of their time, with some design decisions and refereeing tips which may have made sense back in the day but don’t reflect best practice now (and were potentially frustrating even when originally published).

In addition, the multi-part campaign infamously fell apart towards the end in its original release. The episodes up to and including Power Behind the Throne were always considered to be the strongest, but then instead of the intended followup, The Horned Rat, seeing the light of day, instead Something Rotten In Kislev by Ken Rolston was published as the next episode. This was, at best, incongruous – Ken hadn’t written it as an Enemy Within episode but intended it as a self-contained Kislev-based adventure set, and some of the liberties taken to get the PCs from Middenheim to Kislev were rather heavy-handed, and once they got there more or less nothing that happened was particularly relevant to the ongoing plot threads established in preceding episodes.

Things went from bad to worse with Empire In Flames, the original finale of the campaign. Despite being penned by Carl Sargent, who was more closely involved with the wider Enemy Within project than Rolston (Sargent was the author of Power Behind the Throne), it’s generally regarded as the worst episode of the lot – entirely tonally inconsistent with what came before, and on top of that extremely railroady, with the PCs spending a lot of time watching NPCs doing cool stuff but not doing very much themselves (with some notable exceptions).

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The Enemy Within Gets a Squeaky-Clean New Chapter

Having given thoughtful rereleases to the first, second, and third chapters of the Enemy Within campaign, updating them all to WFRP‘s 4th Edition and providing them with new companion volumes along the way, Cubicle 7’s version of the saga has now reached a crucial juncture. Originally, the Power Behind The Throne was followed by Something Rotten In Kislev, but this has more or less always been controversial. Some people simply dislike that adventure, and even those who find it more to their taste admit that it doesn’t actually belong in the Enemy Within sequence at all: Ken Rolston wrote it as a standalone thing, and then plans changed at Games Workshop’s end and it was hastily re-edited to be crowbarred in as a fourth episode. The transition from the victorious end of Power Behind the Throne to the start of Something Rotten In Kislev, in which the PCs are pointlessly arrested and then forced to go to Kislev as agents of Middenheim, is regarded as especially clumsy, not least because it gives the PCs a massive motivation to abscond as soon as they have a chance, rather than co-operating with the Middenheim authorities.

Another problem with Something Rotten In Kislev is that it ends with the PCs rattling around in Kislev – which of course then created the headache of getting them back to the Empire for the final episode of the campaign, Empire In Flames. Or maybe you wouldn’t bother: Empire In Flames is a reviled product, a rushed product knocked out in a hurry to bring the saga to an end as Games Workshop were in the process of shutting down their in-house RPG publications entirely, farming the later development of WFRP out first to Flame Publications and then Hogshead.

Indeed, when Hogshead were producing their reprints of The Enemy Within, James Wallis declared that they weren’t going to do Empire In Flames – the feedback on it was so universally negative that there was no choice but to scrap the damn thing and write something new to replace it. Wallis, however, has always been a better editor of other people’s work than he is a creator of his own material, and this new conclusion was one of several Hogshead projects which sat in development hell and then died when he sold off the company.

The basic idea that The Enemy Within needed a do-over on the ending, however, has been picked up by Cubicle 7 – who have taken it even further by saying “Well, if we’re changing the ending, we may as well do something about Something Rotten In Kislev too”. What they have done, specifically, is “leave it the fuck alone” – at least as far as incorporating it into The Enemy Within goes – and instead finally release The Horned Rat, the original intended followup to The Power Behind the Throne.

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Return To Ubersreik

Although the so far the flagship supplement line for Cubicle 7’s 4th edition of WFRP has been the ongoing “director’s cut” rerelease of The Enemy Within campaign, they haven’t been slouches about working on original material either. A reasonable chunk of this has revolved around the city of Ubersreik, building on the success of the Starter Set for the game. As well as basing its introductory adventures there, the Starter Set also provides a handy guide to Ubersreik, a city in a fascinating situation following the Emperor ousting its previous rulers.

The inclusion of this guide makes the box useful even to non-beginners who want the detail on the region. (It also means that even once beginners have moved onto using the full-fat rules for the game, they can still get some use out of the Starter Set components. This aspect of the Starter Set was so well-received that one can see subsequent starter sets for other RPGs also taking up the “pocket setting” approach to spice up their starter set offerings – Chaosium have done it for RuneQuest and Free League did it with The One Ring. I can’t say for certain whether Cubicle 7 are the ones who have done it first, but the WFRP take on the concept was well-received enough that it’s clearly made the industry sit up and take notice.

Then there was Ubersreik Adventures, at first a series of PDF-only adventure releases, then a printed book compiling them in response to popular demand. With all of the adventures in the collection set in and around Ubersreik, the collection not only helped make getting the Starter Set for the Ubersreik guide that bit more tempting for experienced players, but also was an ideal assistant for referees who’d played through the Starter Set but still felt they wanted some prewritten material to fall back on, especially if they and their group were keen to further explore Ubersreik itself.

Evidently, Ubersreik Adventures was fairly successful, because Cubicle 7 have now brought out in hard copy Ubersreik Adventures II, a second collection along the lines of the first, and making Ubersreik one of the best-supported regions in the WFRP setting alongside Altdorf and Middenheim.

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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.

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WFRP Returns To Middenheim

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 edition Warhammer 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.

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Supplement Supplemental! (Imperial Enclaves, Condensed Conspiracy, and Classy Clues)

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.)

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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.)

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An Arcane Followup

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?

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WFRP: Stepping Past the Starter Set

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.

Ubersreik Adventures

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.

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Shadows Refreshed, an Enemy Renewed

The first two parts of the Enemy WithinThe 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.

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