The promised time is nigh. I’ve been meaning to take a look at the celebrated Enemy Within Campaign by Jim Bambra, Phil Gallagher & Graeme Davis for Warhammer Fantasy 1e for a while now, with the possibility of adapting it to Zweihander for a short (ish) campaign in mind. The first part is simply titled The Enemy Within.
Enemy Within is part campaign setting supplement, part adventure, meant to elaborate on the role of the Empire within the Old World, a part that required some elaboration in the first edition of the game, where the Empire was not yet the Alpha and the Omega and the Moon and the Sun that it would later become. Indeed, over half of Enemy Within is dedicated to fleshing out the Empire, giving the GM sufficient information to run a campaign within it and to allow deviation and handle all manner of interactions if need be. Very well then!
The central focus of the Enemy Within is, unsuprisingly, the Enemy Within. In this campaign the central threat is not a slavering horde of barbarians at the gates, but rather the myriad hidden cults, mutants and associated malcontents that lurk like some slimy aquatic ambush predator beneath the seemingly placid waters of the Empire. Chaos corrupts the hearts of men, and many are those that worship the dark powers in secret, seeking power, riches or altogether darker urges. They are in every layer of society, from the lowest to the highest, and one of the major factors hampering their triumph is their constant infighting. Welcome back Warhammer we have missed you.
The overview starts with some tips on running the Enemy Within campaign and there is some good advice in there. A note on style and the occasional humorous addition is much appreciated, and reflects a difference in attitude that would be re-captured by Zweihander later on. The rest of the advice is entry level stuff but its very useful if Enemy Within is one of the first things you run. Tips on improvising (i.e don’t panic!), presentation (anything from florid, descriptive/dramatic language to gestures/silly voices is highly recommended) and combat/roleplaying balance is all covered.
One thing that I always found interesting about WhF is overland transportation. Being something of a veteran DnD player, overland travel always took place on-foot, or if the party was feeling particularly expedient, on horseback. In service of quasi-historical emulation and indeed, common sense, transportation within the Empire is organized via River Barge and a series of Stagecoach companies. Roads often cross dark and bandit/mutant infested forests, so only the destitute and the willfully reckless travel them on foot.
Like a boss, Enemy Within provides an extra sub system to push one’s mount to cover more ground, at the risk of killing or laming the animal. The system is complete, provides a bonus if one is a skilled driver and proceeds by degrees (so pushing your mount an extra 10% is unlikely to kill it, but 50% extra speed is another matter entirely). As written, there is no maximum to the extra speed you can push your mount but pushing it at, say, 200% maximum speed is likely to kill or lame it rather quickly. A last descriptive recommendation to just handwave the more tiresome aspects makes this segment hold up pretty well, even today, and several prominent coaching houses add that element of versimilitude that would set it apart from its more adventuring-meat-and-bones focused DnD counterpart.
History of the Empire
The second section concerns the history of the Empire. The origins of Sigmar and his career as Chieftain-king of the Uberongen and Friend-To-Dwarves, as well as his successes against the Orcs & Goblins at the battle of Blackfire Pass need not be reiterated. What IS a welcome addition is the earlier histories of the Empire. The origins of its Elector Count system in the distant mists of early antiquity, the granting of Mootland to the Halflings by Ludwig the Fat, the disasterous reign of Boris the Incompetent leading to an electoral stalemate and subsequent civil war and Age of Three Emperors (Talabecland, Nuln and Middleheim duke it out for four centuries in homage to the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, only more willfully destructive). This is great stuff, and the historical emulation lends an air of plausibility to the Empire not often seen in fantasy roleplaying games (the lack of technological progress must be swallowed with a grain of salt, though one could argue that the disintegration of the Empire during the Dark Ages would contribute to the scientific stagnation, and the Empire was eventually to make rapid progress after the reign of Wilhelm the Wise). The rise of Chaos forces everyone to calm the fuck down and unite under Magnus the Pious, essentially issuing in the Rebirth of the Empire.
Overal, the fictional history is wonderfully done, lending necessary context to the greatest of human powers and laying plenty of groundwork for internecine squabbling even without the use of evil demon worshippers. In this Warhammer Fantasy shines. Despite nominally falling under a single ruler, The Empire is divided along both religious, political and economic lines, with many of its most powerful provinces and city states having to pay only lip service to the (often figurehead) crown.
The history section is followed by an overview of the political structure of the Empire. As can already be gleaned from the description, the Emperor is ultimately a figurehead, selected from the Elector Counts (usually the least ambitious, competent), and true power lies with the Council of State and the Electors themselves, which are conveniently listed for all provinces and city-states. What strikes me as interesting is that power is NOT equally divided in the Empire, with some city-states having gained the right to vote, some provinces not being allowed any vote and the Cult of Sigmar being given 3 votes on the Elector Council vs only a single one for the Cult of Ulric (something which galls them to this day, and there is much rivalry between the two).
Politics are admirably complex even on a regional level. EW points out some town may have gained independence and are thus exempt from taxation by the local Duke, which leads them to constantly strive against these blemishes to their sovereignty, providing yet another source for conflict.
Besides the aristocracy, a second major power is the Guilds. I sometimes forget about the existence of guild in any medieval fantasy game, and one really should not in case the PCs ever try to make an honest living in their downtime. Guilds set prices, ensure quality, wield considerable political influence and will generally fuck you up if you try to practice a trade without a guild licence. Because of their near monopoly, Guild can exert considerable influence on the decisions of mayors, barons, dukes and even the Emperor himself.
Taxes in the Empire are a labyrinthine affair. As a result of the accumulation of tax exemptions by major powers like cities and even entire provinces, the Empire comes up with new taxes all time, with the net result being that the wealthy pay virtually no tax while the burden is mostly shifted on the (by and large) politically powerless underclasses of the Empire. Expect such enlightened constructions as road-tax, poll-tax, pit-fight gambling tax and so on. An amusing sidenote concerns the existence of an entire professional class of confidence tricksters levying supposedly new taxes from the gullible and the foolhardy.
Similar exemptions exist on the troop levy, meaning several of the mightiest provinces are exempt from having to levy any troops for the defense of the Empire at all (with predictable results). Welcome to the Empire!
As one may readily surmise, Law in the Empire is a corrupt mess of bribery and station, and it really matters more whether one has an ample purse or who one’s father is then who actually committed what crime. If one actually makes it to court (i.e if you pay the bribes), generally as many charges as possible are tacked on to cover for any previously unsolved crimes. Serious crimes like Horse Theft and Murder or resisting Arrest tends to end in a bloodbath, as the Roadwardens and City Watch are MORE then empowered to dispense justice on the spot, judge dread style if you mouth off. Bottom line, in The Empire, the law is NOT your friend.
The Cult of Sigmar is finally covered (in 1e, I have already alluded to the Church of Sigmar in 2e here), and it is fairly interesting, divided into three segments, of which the wandering hammer-wielding twin-comet throwing badasses are only a small part. The second, The Order of the Torch, does all the daily-life and administration stuff (i.e they have actual power) and the Order of the Anvil are a monastic order who live secluded lives of meditation and prayer, like a proper church of crystal dragon jesus. The same 1e format of holy days, strictures, temples, friends and enemies and so on is maintained, with the only real dissapointment being the spell selection and abilities of the Order of the Silver Hammer vis-a-vis their WHF/Zweihammer counterparts. Priests of Sigmar just get Battle Magic and one unique spell that allows them to pool power points and increase spellcasting levels by chaining themselves together. As an additional fuck you, priests of Sigmar can only learn their spells via their superiors, forcing you to play along and follow the rules. Damnit.
There is a short expansion on the proscribed cults of the Empire, something that will no doubt come into play, but it is little longer then the description in the core rulebook, though several new deities have been added. Khaine, god of Murder, is tantalizingly mentioned but quickly forgotten again in favour of the “new” Chaos Gods. That’s right baby, the BIG FOUR have come to 1e. Of the Dark Gods, Khorne is mentioned as being least worshipped within the Empire due to the unsubtle nature of his worshippers while Tzeentch absolutely dominates the rest in terms of cult size and influence (duh). As may be expected, the various cults fight among themselves and occasionally even cults of the same deity can be in direct conflict. The Cult of the Purple Hand (Tzeentch) is in direct conflict with the Cult of the Red Crown (also Tzeentch). The Horned Rat is also mentioned, which is interesting, particularly the take on the human worship thereof, which have to be some of the most unfortunate, despair-laden fuckers you are likely to encounter.
All the forests and cities in the region of Altdorf are briefly covered, but fuck that, let’s talk about something more interesting. Communication in the Empire is handled through several methods, none of them involving method because A) FUCKING GAY and B) Fear of Sorcery and magic is not commonplace. Instead the Empire uses an ingenious system of couriers and Semaphores by night to convey messages. Ingenious yet technologically feasible. Empire 1 – Hypothetical lame 5e magic communication kingdom 0.
Armies of the Empire.
EW briefly covers major military units in Altdorf specifically, and the Empire in general, noting the differences in quality, armament and so on. Canoneers and Engineers are virtually unheard of outside, say, the Standing Armour of Nuln (also famous for its pikemen), and the Order of the High Helm is an elite division of knights selected exclusively from men over 6 foot 4 in length (and they are rumoured to be giants!). Wicked awesome. What strikes me is how fucking powerful military men seem compared to your average PC. WS 65, 3 attacks, S/T 5 and 13 wounds for an Imperial Cavalry Officer. In case Cavalry men, Guardsmen and Mercenaries were not fucked up enough, the Empire also has several orders of Templars to bring the Piety and burn down any enterprising PC that is looking a bit too avariciously at that Slaves of Darkness book your GM keeps behind the GM Screen. Also halfling infantry.
The game provides six sample characters for the campaign. Alongside some stats and regular equipment, each is provided with a brief personality description and backstory. In temperament and backstory, they do not differ overmuch from their contemporary Basic or AD&D counterparts, with backstories perhaps being a bit more mundane. If you were to show these to a player without any stats, I think he’d be hard pressed to notice the difference. Each comes from fairly humble origins and adventures mostly because of their temperament. WhF avoids the trap of making each a tragic victim/embittered veteran of hideous circumstance, with at least 2 characters having an actual sense of humor. A minstrel, a Wizard’s Apprentice, A thief, A labourer, a Boatman and a Herbalist walk into a bar…
If I must complain further, too many fucking demi-humans for a WhF game. A halfling AND an elf in a party of six?!? What has happened to WhFs commitment to racial purity? This shall not stand! The Führer will hear of this!
Much like Chronicles of Ahmerth, and arguably Dark Albion, EW has an extensive herb section, complete with rules for difficulty, availability, appropriate season vs similar season, the area where it is most often found and the price if it is bought from a herbalist. For all their fantastic names, the herbs in EW are actually rather mundane, with effects like halving the time needed to heal broken bones, bonuses to resist a specific disease, the ability to stop bleeding, Nightshade to knock someone out for several hours and to increase the rate of healing. Very useful, if somewhat mundane, and a much needed expansion to 1e’s very sparse Herb Lore skill.
The Actual Fucking Adventure Part of the Fucking Adventure
The Enemy Within is the first part of a 6 part campaign set in the heartland of the Empire, meant for starting characters. It involves the machinations of the various cults of chaos and their attempt to foment dissent and anarchy within the Empire. The adventure is essentially a linear/railroad adventure in the sense that the conclusion is unlikely to change overmuch, though there are meaningful decisions to be made and for a linear adventure it is at the very least tightly designed and very interesting. I shall explain as I go on.
The central premise of this part of the adventure is a trope that goes back to the pulp era and beyond. On their way to Ostland to chase the promise of gold for boldness, our heroes encounter the body of a man that resembles one of them to an unerring degree. The man is Kastor Lieberung, and unbeknownst to them, Magister Impedimentae of the Purple Hand (Tzeentch). In his pocket is a document indicating he has inherited an estate near the town of Bögenhafen. Free estate anyone?!?
The first good decision in a mystery plot is to start off the adventure with a complete red herring. The PCs think they are going to Altdorf to work for the Crown Prince. They start off simple, in the evening at the Coach and Horses Inn on the road from Derbertz to Altdorf. As you arrive you see the last coach leaving (trying to stop it means you might get shot by the coachman, or at the very least whipped and driven over if you insist on your attempts to stop it). Fuck. Better get the coach tomorrow.
At this point the adventure is pretty free flowing. Since the PCs have to stay anyway, they can opt to just retire and try to book a passage on the coach tomorrow, but smart PCs will at least attempt to gather some rumours. The Rumour table is interesting in the sense that none of the rumors will necessarily be of help to the immediate completion of this part of the adventure, but all of them set the stage, drive home the atmosphere and occasionally, take the piss with a blackadder reference (Witchsmeller Pursuivant anyone?).
EW slowly slides you in by presenting an atmosphere that is seemingly normal, no wizards or whathaveyou (actually one of the guests is a secret demonologist but this is not relevant to the immediate adventure, though it is possible (if unlikely) to unmask and kill him. The most important characters are Gustav, the fat inkeeper and Philipe, professional gambler, who shall approach the PCs for a “game of chance.” This scene is actually left open but obviously, Philipe will resort to cheating if he does not win. The incident is actually left open, and can end any number of ways, with a chase scene, blunderbus fire and an unfortunate conundrum if the PCs manage to capture Philipe (you can’t just kill people for cheating and making him stand trial in Altdorf will take long and is terribly expensive). Further roleplaying is encouraged by making the Coachmen terrible drunks (they will be an hour late and still plastered when the coach is due to leave), but also amendable for negotiation, meaning the PCs have the option of bargaining down the rather exorbitant fee of 7 GC for passage to Altdorf to a more affordable 2 GC. And we are off!
The way xp is handled in EW is indicative of the more simulationist/roleplayery approach of WhF and subsequently Zweihander. You gain xp for certain major, but unavoidable steps in the plot (finding the letter, fighting the Bounty Hunter Adolphus at the end) and the rest is all roleplaying XP during certain segments of the game. The design reflects this, with many sections of the adventure being designed specifically SO your characters can and indeed, must roleplay. Interaction with NPCs is a key component to what makes WhF tick.
One effective way EW spices up the otherwise tedious format of the linear adventure is effective use of narrative techniques like foreshadowing and personalization (if that is the appropriate term fuck it). Early on, the characters encounter an overturned stagecoach, with its inhabitants being fed upon by gruesome mutants (this is where they find the letter of inheritance). The horror of the once human mutant cannibals is driven home by making one of them an old friend of the PCs, emphasizing not merely the direct visceral body-horror of the mutant but also the underlying corruption, that this was once a human being. Effective use of foreshadowing is used with the Bounty hunter Adolphus, who is glimpsed and even involved in the murder of certain shadowy figures before he comes to confront the PCs.
There is something that is admirably grounded about the encounters. They are, with the exception of the mutant ambush, entirely mundane encounters, involving humans with no special abilities or sorcery. As you enter Altdorf you get accosted by about 5 different pushers that attempt to get you to stay at their inn, meanwhile, a thief attempts to pick your pocket! While drinking in Altdorf two young rakes and their 4 bodyguards attempt to pick a fight with you, aided by the Protagonist Max Ernst. No encounter is wasted as later on they are found dead, possibly implying you in their murder. You get stopped by Roadwardens later on, how do you respond? Do you shoot first or risk ambush? It’s all tied together and it helps create the impression of a living, breathing world.
I have a few gripes. The first is an issue of layout. The adventure makes ample use of found documents as a means of storytelling and while making the content look as though it has actually been written with a quill adds to the versimilitude it also makes them very hard to fucking read. I had to puzzle for 2 minutes to figure out the contents of the message Adolphus carries. It’s ridiculous.
A second gripe is that most cardinal sin of the linear adventure. The actual railroad. This happens infrequently but when it does occur it is neccesary but feels arbitrary. Adolphus kills two cultists following the players, if they try to track him he automatically escapes after a few rolls. That one is bullshit but defensible, if he knows the town and is more experienced. The final confrontation is tossfiddle, with the GM being encouraged to fudge rolls if he has to to ensure Adolphus does not get captured alive to preserve the secrecy plot. At least give him a hollow tooth with a dose of poison if you wish to go to such extreme lengths, don’t rely on the magic of GM Fiat to preserve the fucker.
The final encounter is well done. Adolphus the bounty hunter is given some personality with his weird hangman scar and raspy voice and in direct opposition to every other encounter in EW, the final encounter is A) relatively open ended and B) involves tactical combat if the PCs elect to have it on the barge, with the enemy making smart use of the very dangerous burning oil to smoke the PCs out.
Pros: Extensive Empire write-up and a good expansion to the 1e core rulebook. Good use of linear encounters and storytelling techniques to create an atmospheric tour de force and a promising opening chapter to the campaign. Classic pulp premise promises much fun.
Cons: Fudging rolls?!? What heresy is this? Linear is as linear does. Illegible handouts.
It’s too early to judge whether or not Enemy Within is a worthy start to a wonderful campaign of intrigue and swordplay or a catastrophic failure that sets up a bunch of red herrings that never go anywhere. On its own, I’d rate it about a 7 out of 10. The empire section gives some nice detail but its hard to estimate how neccesary it is for the running of the adventure and the adventure itself is promising and atmospheric but ultimately very linear, albeit not restrictively so. We shall see what the sequel has to bring in the next part: Shadows over Bögenhafen!