Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Monday 4 November 2019

TEW: The Enemy Within

The publication of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Fourth Edition by Cubicle Seven Entertainment is a reminder that once upon a time, Games Workshop published roleplaying games. Chief amongst these was of course Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, which even thirty years on, remains the definitive British roleplaying game. Its mix of fantasy, European history, Moorcockian cosmology, humour, grim and perilous feel, disease and damnation, and mud and shit underfoot, very much set it apart from the fantasy found in other roleplaying games of the time—and arguably since. Perhaps the best expression of those elements is not in the roleplaying game itself, but in what is arguably the greatest British roleplaying campaign ever published—The Enemy Within. Published in six parts—The Enemy Within, Shadows Over Bögenhafen, Death on the Reik, Power Behind the Throne, Something Rotten in Kislev, and Empire in Flames—between 1986 and 1989, it thrust a band of lowly adventurers into a conspiracy that threatened the Empire not from without, but within, pushing them onto a larger stage which will bring them to the attention of the great, the good, and the bad and ultimately place the fate of the Empire in their hands. Mostly.

The Enemy Within as a campaign has been much discussed and examined over the years, the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay fanzine, Warpstone, which ran for thirty issues from 1996, paying particular to the campaign through histories and interviews with the authors and designers. My own history with the campaign begins in 1986 as a fan of  Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, playing through much of it three times—playing different characters each time—as published and then with different groups in the 1990s, before reading through the campaign as whole twice as a Hogshead Publishing employee. In the twenty years since, there has been discussion of revisiting The Enemy Within campaign, whether the original campaign using Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Second Edition, or the version of the campaign published by Fantasy Flight Games for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Third Edition. With the publication of the campaign again by Cubicle Seven Entertainment there may well be a chance that I will revisit it at the gaming table again, but in the meantime, it is worth looking again at the constituent parts of The Enemy Within campaign.

The first part of The Enemy Within is of course, The Enemy Within. Later reprints amalgamated this with Shadows Over Bögenhafen and Death on the Reik as Games Workshop’s Warhammer Adventure and Warhammer Campaign, or with Shadows over Bögenhafen as Hogshead Publishing’s Shadows Over Bögenhafen. The original came as a folio, much like the scenarios for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons from TSR, Inc., thick with content—a fifty-six page campaign booklet, a full colour poster of The Empire, and eight pages of handouts, the latter including letters and other clues for scenario included in the booklet, as well as six pre-generated player characters, and a map and calendar of The Empire for the players.

From the off, The Enemy Within clearly states what it is about and what the player characters will be facing. The Empire—described as the greatest land in the Old World—is under attack, but not from the many mutants, Beastmen, and Chaos Warriors that lurk in the all-too thick forests on the edge of civilisation, but from within the mighty civilisation itself. Whilst they do attack and maraud the lands and peoples near to their forest lairs, the true threat comes the members of the guild, merchant, burgermeister, and noble classes who have turned to the worship in secret of the Chaos Gods in return for promises of power, pleasure, and worse. Whether they understand the true perfidy they will unleash on The Empire or not with vile devotions, they are the true enemy, which will only be revealed as campaign progresses and the adventurers are pulled deeper into the horrors hidden behind façades of nobility and civility…

Having set out its remit, The Enemy Within booklet gives good advice for the Game Master in running both the campaign and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Notable amongst this advice is being flexible, being dramatic, and being humorous in presenting the Old World and the campaign. Certainly the humorous aspect to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is one that sets it apart from other roleplaying games, though as the campaign progresses, the authors’ predilection for puns and bad German word play becomes more groan worthy than actually funny. Then as well as covering travel in the Empire—primarily via its canal network and its coaching companies—more than half of the booklet expands upon the background of The Empire and the Old World given in the core rulebook, which was not really as extensive as it could have been. This covers the history of the Empire, from its founding with the unification of the tribes by Sigmar Heldenhammer and defeat of the Goblin armies, right up to the present day, its accompanying list of Emperors including a sly dig at eighties politics with the election of Empress Magraritha in 1979. (The inclusion of Boris the Incompetent on the timeline is just coincidence. Hopefully.)

The background covers not just the Empire’s history and emperors, but the current figurehead of an emperor, his advisors, and the Electors, the latter the members of the nobility who elect the Emperor. Below this, it examines the political and economic structure of the Empire; its guilds, nobility, and ordinary folk; its religion—primarily the Cult of Sigmar, the Empire’s state religion, but also prescribed cults like those devoted to Kháine and the Chaos gods; and its geography and means of communication over long distances, plus a short gazetteer. This is followed by stats for Soldiers of the Empire and Standard NPCs for The Enemy Within campaign. These are accompanied by illustrations of the typical dress worn in the Empire, a guide to herbs found in the Empire, and Mutants in the Empire.

All of which is useful material for the Game Master. A lot of this will come into play during a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay campaign, not just The Enemy Within campaign, though that will involve mutants, it will involve the Empire’s Electors, and one of the pre-generated player characters is a herbalist. Much of this and The Empire is inspired by the history of the Germanic principalities, duchies, and other states of the Holy Roman Empire, which gives Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay its mittel-European sensibility and thus much of its identity which sets it apart from other fantasy roleplaying games. 

The scenario in The Enemy Within is ‘Mistaken Identity’. This begins with a cliché—the player characters answering a call for adventurers wanted in the Imperial capital, Altdorf—but is it? Perhaps in any other fantasy roleplaying game, but here it works because the player characters are at the bottom of the heap and cannot really expect to improve themselves except by answering this call. Some players may grumble at the admonishment that no Dwarves apply, but since no Dwarves are included in the six pre-generated characters, this is not really an issue. Of course, by the time the adventurers get to Altdorf to sign up, the potential employer will have already departed having hired everyone he needed. And by then, the adventurers will also have been distracted by other events…

‘Mistaken Identity’ is a travel adventure. The need for the player characters to get from Delberz to Altdorf more or less hides the linear nature of the scenario’s storyline, which is really designed to get the player characters from one plot point to the next. These plot points are twofold. The first is to get the player characters to discover the dead body of one Kastor Lieberung, a man who is the spitting image of one of their number and who happens to have a letter informing him of an inheritance in the town of Bögenhafen. The possibility of riches and elevation to the nobility is the real hook here, the fact that only one or two of the player characters is literate is a further reason to keep everyone together, since it is unlikely that doppelganger will be able to read the letter. The second is to wonder why certain men are taking a desperate interest in the player character—or rather Kastor Lieberung who the player character is impersonating—and third, why someone else wants those men and then Kastor Lieberung, dead. Of course, Kastor Lieberung is actually a dead Chaos cultist, and understandably, this will have repercussions throughout the rest of The Enemy Within campaign as death and murder follows in the adventurers’ wake (and not just at the end of their swords and axes, The Enemy Within campaign involving a fair bit of combat)...

Along the way, the Game Master has some fun scenes to portray. These begin with a night at the Coach and Horses Inn, populated with a range of characters ready to set out aboard the coach the next day. Here the player characters get to rub up against and probably rub up the wrong way various members of society, including a cardsharp on the make, an imperious noble who will employ her bodyguards to keep the player characters away, a cultist (from another cult!), and two very drunk coachmen. The player characters are free to do what they want here and roleplay their characters in the inn and on the road, before throwing them into the plot proper following a combat with Mutants on the road. This will have nasty consequences for one of the player characters as it turns out one of the Mutants was a friend. After this, there is the famous ear-scratching scene by cultists in Altdorf, a run-in with Hooray Heinrichs spoiling for a fight between their bodyguards and the oiks, and meet-up with an old friend, circumstances around these pushing the player characters to scarper from Altdorf—and on to Shadows Over Bögenhafen, the next part of The Enemy Within…

The Enemy Within comes with six pre-generated player characters, all in their first Career, and all ready to play except for each player needing to select his character’s first Advance. They are all complete with an illustration, background, and personality description. They include an Elf Minstrel, a Halfling Herbalist, and Human Boatman, Labourer, Thief, and Wizard’s Apprentice, and despite this range, they are a fairly ordinary lot. This though nicely plays off against the extraordinary series of events that they will find themselves thrust into as The Enemy Within progresses. The first part of the campaign also includes six player handouts, all nicely done on heavy stock.

Physically, The Enemy Within is an engaging product. The writing is excellent, the advice solid, and the new background useful. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay has always been renowned for its artwork, but in coming back to The Enemy Within, it is artistically disappointing. Much of it is cartoonish even as it tries to evoke the Old World’s ‘grim and perilous’ feel. This is not to say that some of it is not good, but on the strength of this first part of the campaign, it needs work. Conversely, the maps are all well done.

Both Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and The Enemy Within were reviewed in Dragon #124 (August 1987) by Ken Rolston, who would go on to write Something Rotten in Kislev, the fifth part of The Enemy Within campaign. He commented that, “...The Enemy Within makes a very good first impression. Though that first impression weakens slightly on careful examination, it’s nonetheless a stand-out product, highly recommended, and a promising initial release for WFR’s line of campaign and adventure supplements.” Of the adventure structure, he said, “The adventure also depends on an unusually egregious use of plot manipulation to get the PCs from one encounter to the next. The encounters are excellent – elaborately staged, with detailed NPCs, GM presentation tips, and fine role-playing opportunities. The adventure materials are complete to current industry standards – prepared character sheets, with character personality and background notes, player handout props, GM reference summary sheets, attractive, functional maps and diagrams. But the creaking of the plot mechanisms for shuttling the PCs from encounter to encounter is a bit distracting. The adventure could be run without all the dubious coincidences – but the best parts of the adventure depend on those coincidences. If I ran this adventure, I would earnestly and shamelessly steer the PCs right into them. But I’d be a lot more careful about eroding my players’ trust in the plot devices. “Say, what a coincidence – again…”” Nevertheless, he was ultimately positive about the adventure. Similarly, Space Gamer/Fantasy Gamer Number 82 (July/Aug 1988) reviewed not just The Enemy Within, but also its sequels, Shadows Over Bögenhafen and Death on the Reik. Of The Enemy Within, reviewer Richard A. Edwards said that, “If you want to bring your roleplaying group a new experience in roleplaying and introduce them to new complexities of plot then run, do not walk, to your game store and purchase a copy.” The late Stewart Wieck reviewed both Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, The Enemy Within, Shadows Over Bögenhafen, and Death on the Reik in White Wolf Magazine #9 (February, 1988), focussing in the main on the roleplaying game itself. He said, “The Enemy Within, Shadows Over Bögenhafen, and Death on the Reik are all very attractive and worthwhile supplements. The Enemy Within forms the basis for all of the WFRP adventures that follow. It begins an entire campaign for WFRP.” before awarding The Enemy Within a score out of eight out of ten.

The Enemy Within consists of two parts. In the first, it gives the Game Master the background—political, legal, travel, geographical, religious, and more—to The Empire, providing the background against which the events of The Enemy Within campaign as a whole will play out. At this initial stage, this is not obvious, but as the campaign progresses, it will become so, for one of the things that the authors do not do is lay out the whole plot. That will only come when it is complete. As to ‘Mistaken Identity’, it is easy to complain that the scenario is linear and too much of a railroad, but if so, it does what it is designed to do—pull them into the adventure before waylaying them with a completely different plot and shoving them into the campaign proper. As a set-up, it takes a session or two, and perhaps its plot is heavy-handed in places (though it hides it well), but The Enemy Within is a solid start to the definitive British fantasy roleplaying campaign.


With thanks to Shannon Appelcline for arranging access to White Wolf Magazine #9.

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