Thursday, 3 April 2014

Enemy Within - another season rumoured....

Well, our Enemy Within 2.0 campaign has finished. Those still interested in what happened in the closing stages of the campaign are advised to visit our GM's excellent blog, where he tells all, often with his spectacular illustrations to support his tale. As regular visitors to this blog will know, we were playing the Fantasy Flight version of the campaign, with the old 2.0 version of the game, as our group is composed of both grognards and newbies (although we just generally prefer this edition).

Having played a character all the way through the campaign, I'd like to deliver my impressions on the WFRP 2.0 rules system in particular, but also on the TEW campaign.

Let's start with the campaign. I'm not going to include many spoilers here, and I also have to say I'm not sure exactly how much of what we encountered was slung at us by our GM, and how much stemmed from the written plot.

At the beginning of the campaign we had to answer quite a few background questions, which I thought was great, as it really helped to set the scene. Why were the characters in Averheim to start with? What was their relationship to each other, and to the major NPCs? I feel this is a superb way to start a campaign, as it helps integrate the characters into the plot from the first whistle, rather than have them all stumble into each other in a smokey tavern. We focused less on our background and relationships as the campaign continued, and the characters became more embroiled in the plot. Some of our back stories - like Magnar's mysterious disgrace and exile, or Rudiger's quest for his missing brother - were touched on but didn't become major plot elements. I guess this will always be the case in a published scenario, but hope that some threads might get explored further should another story arc be in the offing.

I was impressed how the PCs became considerably more powerful as they entered their third or fourth careers. They did not possess the power levels of a mid-level Pathfinder party, but they were still able to do a considerable amount of damage, and even when split into two groups and attacked at separate locations, inflicted suitable amounts of carnage (e.g. tackling Chaos Beastmen and Trolls at locations separated by several miles of forest).

The campaign involved more fighting than I expected - I had been led to believe that the power levels in WFRP were more akin to a game like Call of Cthulhu, but am revising my opinions. In just one trip down the river from Middenheim to Altdorf we had a number of bloody encounters, including an ambush by orcs which nearly did for us.

Healing was more of a problem. PCs that get hurt in WFRP stay hurt, unless like us you spend a lot of money with the priestesses of Shallya or retain a surgeon as part of your party. This latter option served us well, and I really don't see how it would be possible to complete a campaign of this scope without at least one surgeon or doctor traveling with the group. Honest.
We never worked out who this was...

Where I think we missed an opportunity is perhaps with the career system. From a player's perspective, this is a big part of a campaign, as it represents character advancement and the expenditure of XP. Acquiring the right trappings becomes critical, and forms the focus of any shopping expedition. But some careers also require that other objectives are met - a Troll Slayer needs to kill a Giant to become a Giant Slayer. If you're playing a Troll Slayer in a campaign with no giants in it, then you're a tad stuck, as this is, IIRC, the only career exit for a Troll Slayer. Luckily, our Troll Slayer Thorek managed to track down some forest Giants who obligingly allowed themselves to be slain in the interests of career progression, but he died within sight of the 'demon of note' he needed for the Demon Slayer career.

My character Rudiger forced a side-quest to go rob some tombs when he became a Tomb Robber (all in the interests of proper role playing, although IIRC Magnar was also interested in looting tombs for armour), although sadly no vampires were forthcoming once Rudiger graduated to Vampire Hunter (I still expected one to manifest in Altdorf towards the end there).

I like the career progression in WFRP, don't get me wrong. I think it provides more - realistic - characters than the level based advancement of Pathfinder. The careers also deliver more of a flavour of the Warhammer Old World and its people. And they don't feel at all 'samey'. But as a player you always have one eye on your character's motivation - why did Rudiger Adler become a Vampire Hunter? I justified this on the basis of the encounters with the undead in the barrow we raided in Stirland. The shift represented Rudiger's growing awareness of the evil in the world, and the need to stop it, rather than his previous focus in Averheim on simply making enough money to get by. His Road to Damascus moment probably came in Middenheim, when he turned his back on the opportunity for some skulduggery to become a Vampire Hunter.

Rudiger on the prowl!
The careers, as with Traveller, also provide your character with a richer background to look back on. Hence, Rudiger was an Outlaw in Averland (having deserted from the Mad Count's army after the Battle of Black Fire Pass), then became a Thief in Averheim with his brother Ralf and Magnar (another PC). Entering the service of the Elf Lord Aelric (yes, another PC), he turned to tomb robbing, before finally dedicating himself to vampire hunting in the later stages of the campaign (although really he was on the trail of a Chaos conspiracy).

All in all, I really enjoyed this campaign. I didn't have a clue what was going on half the time, and it really only all fell into place right in the penultimate session. We lost one PC (Thorek) and another looks doomed to become a Chaos mutant spawn sooner rather than later, but hey, that's WFRP! Our GM is also muttering about continuing the campaign in a second season, focusing on the new overlord of Black Fire Pass (Aelric), but he'll have to talk to the studio bosses about funding!

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