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Sunday 18 December 2022

Plots Aplenty

‘A Rough Night at the Three Feathers’ by Graeme Davis is the adventure that comes to mind when anyone thinks of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay—after The Enemy Within campaign, of course. Originally published in White Dwarf #94 in November, 1987, it is a one-night, multi-strand scenario with a lot going on. In fact, the scenario is so well regarded, that it has been reprinted not once, not twice, but four times. First by Games Workshop in 1989 in The Restless Dead; second by Hogshead Publishing in 1995 in Apocrypha Now; and third, in Plundered Vaults, the anthology compiled by Black Industries in 2005, for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Second Edition. Then, over three decades since it first appeared, it has been reprinted for a fourth time, appropriately for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Fourth Edition, from Cubicle Seven Entertainment, in the scenario anthology, Rough Nights & Hard Days.

Rough Nights & Hard Days is no mere reprint though, although most of its five scenarios are reprints and updates to the current version of the rules. To these, Graeme Davis, has not only added another scenario, he has also built all five into a short campaign. A campaign which will not take the Player Characters back and forth across the Empire, so much as around it, as they travel from Kemperbad to Nuln to Schloss Graunenberg in the Reikland to Ubersreik, starting of course, at the Three Feathers Inn. From the strange night at the inn, the Player Characters attend a judicial duel at a courthouse, go the opera house, attend a wedding in a castle, and a masquerade at a country mansion, all whilst getting involved in feuds between noble families, the investigations of Witchfinders, romantic trysts, blackmail and assassination, smuggling, and more. Multiple plots run throughout all five scenarios and the Player Characters will encounter the same participants again and again.

Rough Nights & Hard Days can be run in three ways. First, anyone of the scenarios can be run on its own. Second, it can be run as a five-part mini-campaign on its own. Third, it can be run as part of The Enemy Within campaign, essentially as secondary plot strand beginning with the second part of the campaign, Death on the Reik. There can be no question that running Rough Nights & Hard Days as either a standalone campaign or a mini-campaign within The Enemy Within campaign is the best way to get the most out of the adventures in the anthology. Run as a standalone campaign, there is plenty of room for the Game Master to add other adventures since there are periods of travel between the individual scenarios, but run as part of The Enemy Within campaign and the individual scenarios serve to break up the major encounters in that campaign.

The adventures in Rough Nights & Hard Days are different to what you might expect if you have not seen any of their previous versions. First and foremost, they are heavily plotted, and second, they are linear. Once the Player Characters arrive at the start of a scenario, its plot starts ticking, running to a tight timeline of events which will take place if they sit back and do nothing. There are points along the way when the Player Characters do become involved, primarily through the actions of an NPC, but much of the play of any one scenario is player driven. In other words, it is up to a player and his character to take an interest in what is going on around the character. One skill in particular can be a boon throughout, and that is the Lip-Reading skill, as the scenarios involve a lot of intrigue and politicking. However, the structure and heavily plotted nature of the scenarios means that the Game Master will be kept busy from start to finish. Plus, the Player Characters are unlikely to be sticking together as one plot after another draws one Player Character off to investigate as another Player Character decides to stick his nose into one of the other plots. Which means that the Game Master is likely to be cutting back and forth between the different Player Characters and the different scenes across the multiple plots. So any one of the five scenarios in the anthology is a busy affair which will keep a good Game Master on her toes, plus the Game Master will need to improvise in places when it comes the consequences of the Player Characters’ actions. Whilst the consequences of their not getting involved and their failure to stop the plots around them coming to fruition are obvious, those of their successfully foiling a plot not always so. Another issue perhaps is the repetitious nature of the plots and plot from one scenario to the next, which may become wearisome for the players, let alone the Game Master, especially if the scenarios are run as a standalone campaign. Adding different adventures and encounters between the scenarios in Rough Nights & Hard Days or running them as part of The Enemy Within campaign would solve that issue.

At the core of Rough Nights & Hard Days is a feud between two noble families. Baron Eberhardt von Dammenblatz of Wissenberg has accused the Gravin Maria-Ulrike von Liebwitz of Ambosstein of immoral behaviour and complicity in the murder of his father at one of her aunt’s infamous parties. The matter is settled by trial by combat. Whatever the outcome, the Baron is not going to be happy with it and will take his revenge any way he can. A Chaos cult is also attempting to gain influence over the Gravin, or at least one member of her retinue, because, well, this is Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and where there is Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, there is also a Chaos cult involved somehow. A bounty hunter is also after some smugglers and a Witchfinder is sniffing around after learning rumours of a Chaos cult being involved (because again, this is Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay), and then there are various individual plots within each scenario. In between, there is a Gnome (yes, ‘Gnome’; see below) gleefully running hither and thither unnoticed, purloining anything he can lay his hands on!

Each scenario follows the same format. This begins with advice on setting the adventure, describing the location, and then breaking down the seven for each adventure and listing the events which will take place over the course of said adventure. There is advice on the aftermath and linking it to the campaign or not, if run as a standalone adventure, rewards for the Player Characters, and then stats for the numerous NPCs. All of them come with portraits and illustrations, although not all of them are in colour, oddly. However, they are all good enough that that the Game Master will want to use them as illustrations to show her players. This is a good idea since the scenarios each involve a lot of NPCs. However, the scenarios do vary in quality. The second, ‘A Day at the Trials’, involving the trial-by-combat, feels too similar to the ‘A Rough Night at the Three Feathers’, whilst the last scenario, ‘Lord of Ubersreik’ increases the number of factions, which makes the scenario even more complex to run, ultimately to no effect. Given the fact that the anthology ends in Ubersreik, if its is being as a standalone campaign, then the Player Characters could become involved in the storyline begun in the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set.

Rounding out Rough Nights & Hard Days is pair of appendices. The first of these details Gnomes for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Fourth Edition, including rules for character creation, their first mention for the roleplaying game since Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, First Edition and the aforementioned Apocrypha Now. Here they have been tweaked to be less associated with the Dwarves and are portrayed as a secretive race that most people in the Empire misidentify as Halflings. Like the Elves, they tend to have a little magic, which does not find favour with the Witchfinders, but then again, what does bar the burning of heretics? The best-known Careers for Gnomes are Thieves and Pedlars, but a random Class and Career table is included for them, as well as notes of their gods, now three rather than just one, and Gnome Wizards and Priests. The two new gods are Evawn, god of travel, trade, and thievery, and Mabyn, goddess of shadows, revenge, and magic, alongside Ringil, the god of entertainment, merriment, and trickery. Of course, the inclusion of Gnomes in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay has been a matter of debate ever since they first appeared. Some groups will happy to include them, others not, and ultimately, it is up to the Game Master and her players if they want them in their game.

The second appendix is dedicated to ‘Pub Games’. In fantasy roleplaying games, pubs and taverns tend to be places to eat, drink, have brawls, and gather rumours in, whereas other activities take place as well as those. Most of them games, including darts, skittles, dominoes, cards and bowls, which are all very traditional—as is ‘Dwile Flonking’. To these are added various games indigenous to the Old World setting. This is all flavoursome stuff, which will add some fun for the Player Characters should they spend an evening in a quieter pub than the Three Feathers, and for the Player Character with the Gambler career, they open up lots of roleplaying opportunities. Plus, it makes a visit to the pub a bit more entertaining—in and out of the game.

Physically, Rough Nights & Hard Days is lovely looking hardback. The artwork, whether colour or black and white is excellent throughout—though it is a pity that there is more of the latter than the former, and the cartography is good too. In fact, all of the locations in the five scenarios could be used again in later scenarios. The book needs a slight edit in places.

Rough Nights & Hard Days is highly entertaining campaign, with five scenarios just waiting for the Player characters to leap in and get involved, sending plots and NPCs careening off in unintended directions. Some scenarios need a little bit of extra work in places, but as they really are suited to an experienced Game Master rather than one new to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, this should not be much of an issue.

Overall, Rough Nights & Hard Days combines bedroom farce-style plotting, but with the grim and perilous tone and style that you would expect for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Just add the players and their characters, and watch the chaos—with a small ‘c’—unfold.

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