Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Enemy Revisited

I was asked about Fantasy Flight Games' version of The Enemy Within on G+ a few days ago and I remembered that I was going to write a post about my experiences of running the campaign but never got around to it. This is me getting around to it. Sorry.

If you're going to play the campaign do not read on as there will be spoilers. I mean it; there's a central mystery at the heart of the plot and it will be ruined if you know about it, so bog off if you're a player. Go and read Goblin Punch or something.

Game Masters, read on.

It's Not What You Think It Is

The Enemy Within II is not a remake of the original campaign, nor does it have much to do with the earlier adventures. To be fair this is explained in the introduction, but Fantasy Flight could have done a better job of advertising the fact -- it's the question I get asked most often -- although then the title would come across as an exploitative cash-in and we wouldn't want that, would we?

The new campaign does share some ideas-- it concerns a conspiracy to undermine the Empire -- and some locations with the earlier version, and the cult of the Purple Hand makes a cameo appearance, but otherwise it has no real connection with the original. It is set about twenty years later but also follows the timeline of the wargame and I'm sure there is a message board somewhere about how canon has been violated one way or another.

The campaign is written for the third edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay but is light on actual game mechanics so is easy enough to convert to another version of the game, or even an unrelated system. I noticed that beneath all the cards and funky dice a WFRP3 character is not that different to a WFRP2 character and I posted my conversion notes -- and they are little more than notes, because it's that easy! -- here.

That said, I did bump up the Black Hood's statistics a tad as he was a bit weak for a villainous mastermind. I regret nothing.

This Is a Bit Familiar

It's not a remake of the original campaign but neither is everything brand new. I was out of gaming for most of the life span of WFRP2 so I'm not familiar with everything released for it but I did notice that a fair bit of Ashes of Middenheim is reused -- sometimes amended, sometimes verbatim -- and I wouldn't be surprised if other stuff is recycled too; you may need to work on those parts if you have players familiar with the earlier material.

Rogues' Gallery

There are lots of non-player-characters in The Enemy Within II and a key part of the campaign is keeping track of who everyone is, where they are, and what they're doing. I don't mean for the GM either -- although it is important that the GM knows all this stuff -- because it's the player-characters who are going to have to pursue the Black Hood and counter her or his schemes.

In my first draft of this post I wrote that character portraits would be "handy" but I think "essential" is more apt. The campaign comes with character cards -- it is for WFRP3 after all -- but I thought these would be difficult to see at a distance so I created some larger images -- see left -- based on the original art and pinned them to my GM screen. I can make the images available if there's interest.

The Black Hood

This villain is behind most of the obstacles the player-characters will face and the mystery of her or his true identity is one of the key threads in the campaign. The writers introduce three key NPCs who could be the Hood -- and each of the NPCs plays a major role even if they aren't the villain -- and provide plenty of advice on how to modify the plot to fit the GM's choice of blackguard; there are even some brief notes on how to use some different NPCs in the role if the main three don't appeal.

The book also suggests that the GM doesn't choose the identity of the Black Hood until later on, so that the players don't guess too early. I think this is a little unfair -- ogrish even -- and I suggest choosing before the campaign begins and sticking to that choice; all that said I did ponder the possibility of two of the NPCs working together -- spoilers for Scream there, sorry -- and there's no reason why all three couldn't be in on it! I also considered using one of the NPCs as the villain and have one of the others also turn to evil but have no connection to the conspiracy, as a sort of double-bluff.

When I ran the campaign there were enough suspicious NPCs -- it helps that the Skaven all scurry about in black cloaks -- that the player-characters were never sure who the Black Hood was until the end, although their first guess turned out to be correct.

In the Beginning

The WFRP3 background mechanic is not used in earlier editions but if you are playing the campaign with an older version of the game I suggest making use of the cards -- it is WFRP3 after all -- to tie the player-characters into the plot and to each other. It can be difficult to get the player-characters involved at first and the suggested backgrounds help give them reasons to do so.

On that subject, the player-characters don't get drawn into the main plot of the campaign until a couple of game days have passed and so you may need to give the players a nudge to get them to stay in Averheim -- the starting location -- until then. You could also skip those first few days and jump right in but I think there's enough good material in there that it would be a shame to lose it; if nothing else the player-characters have a chance to build relationships that add depth to later events.

Whatever you decide, it's worth paying close attention to the start of the campaign and working out good reasons for the player-characters to hang around the Averheim docks looking for missing vagrants.

Bonus Content and Deleted Scenes

The campaign is structured much like Neverwinter Nights -- for those old enough to remember it -- in that most of the action is confined to three locations and there's not much in the way of connecting detail. You do get what are more or less random encounter tables -- converted to WFRP2 here --but that's it. You could just skip straight to the next location but my group was in no rush to finish the campaign so I put some effort into expanding the in-between bits.

If I had more time I would have come up with a secondary campaign that would play out in the gaps in the main plot but as it was I came up with a number of self-contained bits and bobs:

The barrow wights were used to give the player-characters something to do on the way to Middenheim and also introduced a plot element that came into play later on but wasn't explored in full; I hope more will come of it if and when we reconvene for the sequel.

The campaign has the player-characters stop in Delberz for a night on their way to Altdorf but as written nothing much happens, so I expanded a line from the WFRP2 supplement Sigmar's Heirs about unsolved killings in the town into a fullish adventure.

Also on the way to Altdorf the players-characters have a chance of running into a river troll. I wanted more than just a fight with a monster so I created the village of Mistheim and gave the player-characters a reason to stop and explore. I kept the river troll anyway because it seemed like fun.

The Beast of Krankendorf was my invention; there are a few lines in the book about a monster attacking the village but no further details are given; I can't decide if this "plot seed" is half-arsed or inspirational but I took it as the latter.

Some of the central plot points are light on specifics too; in Middenheim, the player-characters will be asked to go and obtain some ingredients for an important ritual and the campaign as written only gives brief notes on what could happen so it's worth fleshing this part out in advance. I added giants and beastmen in an attempt to make it a bit more interesting than a simple fetch quest.

As you can see there is plenty of room to add extra opportunities for adventure but there's also a bit of flab here and there and I did prune some of the text. I cut out three quarters of the -- optional -- fourth chapter of the campaign as it seemed a bit much to visit areas devoted to each of the four Chaos gods and then to play through four similar "are we in an illusion or are we home?" episodes on the return journey. Instead I skipped straight to the flying tower of Tzeentch and only put the player-characters through the illusion once; they almost fell for it too.

The players also missed a major subplot in Middenheim and as a result an innocent man was executed and a Chaos cult prospered, but I believe that player choices should matter, even if it means a major plot is skipped or a campaign finishes earlier than it should.

That's a Big Un

It took my group about six months of weekly three-hour sessions to run through the campaign. There were a number of gaps in which we missed a session for one reason or another or played a different game that week, so it was probably closer to four months. As mentioned above I expanded the campaign in a number of spots so if played as written I reckon it would take my lot about three months -- or twelve three-hour sessions -- to play from start to finish; even if you don't put in any extra work you'll get your money's worth from the adventure. Unless you stole it.

The Enemy Concluded

There you go. That's my briefish guide to running The Enemy Within II: Enemy Withiner. We had good fun with it and it's probably the most successful campaign I've run, even if it's not as good as the original; that said, it does have a better ending. I hope it's been helpful; if anyone has any further questions then post them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer them.

Saturday, August 23, 2014


I have just taken a delivery -- thanks Ben! -- of a pile of boxes from my university days that had been in storage at the other end of the country for over a decade. Among works of classical Greek literature and dry philosophical texts was this:

Also in the box was my first set of gaming dice, bought in 1995 or so.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Man (Robot) Fights Dog

There they were, the heroes of the 13th Age, on the top floor of a rickety wooden tower in the middle of a town that was literally alive, in a stand-off with a fireball-chucking wizard and his angry-looking dog, and all Amras had on his mind was that the wizard about to immolate them all seemed very familiar.

The party inched around the room in an attempt to surround the wizard Hallas without provoking him and as a distraction Amras attempted to engage him in conversation. The party discovered that Hallas had odd gaps in his story; he didn't remember arriving in Shadow Port and while he did remember the box -- in which they had assumed the item they had been sent to retrieve had been kept -- he had no memory of its contents. This was all very suspicious and odd and then the dog said "Get out of here now and you may live", which was something of a surprise.

Ne-0n pointed at the talking dog and asked Hallas what was going on. Hallas indicated that he heard nothing but a bark. The dog bit Ne-0n on the leg, crumpling the robotic sorcerer's metallic skin. Then there was a big fight.

Hallas' spells either failed or were countered by Amras' own magical abilities and the dog was hacked and blasted into bits. Literal bits, as it exploded into rainbow coloured light when they got it to zero hit points; they began to suspect that it was not a normal dog. Meanwhile Hallas was beaten into unconsciousness and the party was just about to tie him up and loot his study when the tower shook as something huge approached. Poking their heads out the window they saw a gigantic shadow thing -- perhaps some sort of amalgamation of the smaller creatures they had fought earlier -- half-stomping and half-slithering towards them.


Huge 6th level spoiler
Initiative + 11
Vulnerability: light (yes, I know there is no light damage type in 13th Age, so what?)

Inky black tentacles +11 vs PD (3 attacks) - 21 negative energy damage.
Natural roll is above target's Constitution: the target loses a recovery as they feel their life force draining away.

C: Shadow Wail + 11 vs MD (2d4 nearby enemies) - targets are stunned (save ends) as each of the thing's masks lets out an agonised moan.

AC 22    PD 20    MD 20    HP 270

Ooh! A boss monster! Ooh! A boss monster that couldn't roll above a five and so missed with each and every attack except for the wail and that was no good if it couldn't follow up with any other attacks. Never mind then.

At some point during the one-sided mugging of the Giant Blobby Shadow Thing Hallas woke up and tried to crawl into a corner to hide from the enormous monster smashing holes in his house, but Amras executed him with a ray of frost, an act that seemed a little disproportionate.

As the wounded and helpless wizard froze to death a strange magical burst erupted from his body and shattered the windows of the tower; Sartheen the Red was occupied chopping the Giant Blobby Shadow Thing to bits but did feel the weight of the Blue's geas lift as Hallas expired. Was the geas that bound the Blue to the Emperor's service somehow contained, not in the wooden box Sartheen had seen, but in the human being Sartheen had seen carrying the box?

(Spoiler: Yes.)

Then came the looting and as the party ransacked Hallas' study they uncovered a strange and lifelike statue of an armoured half-orc, with a silver vial on a cord hanging around its neck. They opened the vial and poured the contents into the statue's mouth, and to the great surprise of no one the statue transformed into a real little boy a confused half-orc paladin. Before anyone could ask the half-orc who he was or why he had been petrified and stood in the corner of a wizard's study, the whole tower began shaking as the sentient town took control of it and tried to crush the party inside.

They escaped the tower just as it shaped itself into an enormous fist and tried to squash them, then they legged it to the edge of town -- Amras' keen intelligence helping him to plot a course through the shifting streets -- where a group of shadow things blocked their path. Amras teleported past the mob and ran into the woods while the rest of the party hacked their way through the shadows.

Once in the relative safety of the hills above Shadow Port, the party -- and their new addition, Gothrog Thickskull, paladin of, er, Communism -- discussed their next move. Some wanted to return to the cave with the magic portal but others pointed out that this would take them straight back to the Blue. Shadow Port was on an island so the only other way off -- given their current resources -- was to steal a boat, but that would have required returning to town and they were about as keen to do that as they were to face the Blue again.

Sartheen suggested a third option. He knew -- via an Icon relationship roll -- of a small gang of smugglers who had tried to circumvent the established order of things in Shadow Port and while the smugglers themselves had been forced into early retirement by the thieves' guild it was possible that their hideout -- and their boats -- would be intact. The dragonspawn's hunch paid off and the party escaped the island in a sloop with Rarity falling back on her skills as a former pearl diver to guide them to a safe port. Alas, those skills were a bit rusty and by the time they slouched into Glitterhaegen the party was battered, bruised and half-drowned.

They knew that they had burned their bridges with some Icons and made enemies of others, so they booked into an obscure inn far from the main thoroughfares of the city and kept their heads down. As the party convalesced, Ne-0n meditated and when he emerged from his trance, days later, the robot announced that he was tired of being manipulated by powerful beings and that it was time to take the Icons on.

With the summer holidays upon us and regular attendance due to become sporadic as a result we decided that we'd arrived at a good point to pause the campaign. The characters have reached fifth level and so a new tier of play has opened up; when we return to the 13th Age in the autumn we'll see how the player-characters intend to oppose the Icons. Until then it's board games for us and we may even have a go at this new Dungeons and Dragons thing everyone's talking about.