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Sunday 25 February 2024

An Ubersreik Quintet

The two great features of the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set were twofold. First, in ‘A Guide to Ubersreik’, it introduced Ubersreik, the fortress-town in the south of the Reikland, and its surrounding duchy that are in turmoil after an announcement from the emperor that unseated the ruling House Jungfreud. It left the town’s burghers and minor members of the nobility spotting an opportunity to take control themselves and much of this was explored in ‘The Adventure Book’, which provided a five-part mini-campaign and more story hooks. This was the second great thing about the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set—lots to roleplay. Although Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set was in part designed to set the Game Master and her players up reader for the majestic The Enemy Within campaign—after all, almost everything is in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Fourth Edition is—what if instead of leaping into that campaign, the Player Characters wanted to stay in and around Ubersreik? Fortunately, and almost immediately, publisher Cubicle Seven Entertainment began publishing scenarios set in and around the Duchy of Ubersreik, so the Player Characters could not only continue their involvement in the political upheaval in the town, but also explore its surroundings.

Ubersreik Adventures: More Grim and Perilous Scenarios in the Duchy of Ubersreik continues the series begun with Ubersreik Adventures: Six Grim and Perilous Scenarios in the Duchy of Ubersreik, by collecting the next five scenarios in the series—and more, in another handsome, if slim, hardback. The five take the Player Characters in and around the Duchy of Ubersreik, but do not stray very far from the river port at its heart. In the process, they will face an uprising by the recently dead, investigate a local legend, get caught up in a whodunnit, search for a serial killer, and find themselves wrapped in a con job. The scenarios are also flexible. All can be taken and dropped into the Game Master’s campaign, used in conjunction with the Rough Nights & Hard Days campaign anthology, or used as part of The Enemy Within. However, where Ubersreik Adventures: Six Grim and Perilous Scenarios in the Duchy of Ubersreik felt like it constantly wanted to push the Game Master, her players, and their characters onto the path that would lead into the events of The Enemy Within, none of the scenarios in this anthology do. Instead, they are standalone affairs that can be run in episodic fashion in and around the duchy, all the better to be free of any connection to The Enemy Within. One thing missing from all five is the ‘Shaking Things Up’ appendix with advice for the Game Master on running the scenario, alternative hooks to get the Player Characters involved, and a list of possible connects to not only the other five scenarios in the volume, but also other parts of the Empire. Although the lack of suggested connections means that the five scenarios in the anthology are less obviously flexible, at the same it enforces their independence away from The Enemy Within, though of course, they do work better in conjunction with the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set.

The anthology opens with ‘Deadly Dispatch’ which opens with one of the Player Characters receiving a mysterious package. Opening the package reveals that it contains a puzzle box and opening the puzzle box—the scenario suggesting either Intelligence checks modified by appropriate skills and talents or brute force as possible methods—reveals its contents to be quite probably blasphemous. Of course, brute force also destroys some of the evidence, but not all of it. Investigating the address label reveals that it has been given to the Player Character in a case of mistaken identity and investigating the addressee reveals that it should have been sent to a local river woman. She turns out to be easy to find and nervous when she is found. This is because unfortunately, she has become the front woman for a necromancer who has designs on Ubersreik. This is all a good set-up, supported by two well written NPCs in the form of the river woman and the similarly reluctant, but undead Estalian duellist who is the necromancer’s bodyguard and servant. In comparison, the necromancer himself feels underwritten as does the fact that the plot ends with a zombie uprising. Nevertheless, zombie uprisings are invariably fun and ‘Deadly Dispatch’ is a serviceable scenario that can be played through in a single session.

If ‘Deadly Dispatch’ is straightforward, then ‘Fishrook Returns’ is just a bit obvious in its plotting. The whole of Ubersreik is talking about the return of Fishrook, a notorious highwayman who has been holding up and robbing coaches and wagons on the roads around the city. What is significant about the highwayman’s return is that he is dead, having been hanged for his crimes a century ago. But this Fishrook wears the same bird-like mask and dresses just as flamboyantly, so is this the real Fishrook returned, his ghost, or someone impersonating his legend. A local noblewoman, Gutele von Bruner, bored and enamoured by the legend is determined to find out and hires the Player Characters to find out. Unfortunately, there is not really much of a mystery as to the identity of who the new Fishrook is and it is likely that the Player Characters will very quickly put two and two together and realise that it is actually Gutele von Bruner. There is a bit of a run around to capture her, but where the scenario gets interesting is deciding what to do with her, because after all, she has committed several crimes. This is particularly tricky if the Player Characters are still part of the city watch as they are in the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set. Do they upset the nobility by pushing for a trial and causing a bigger scandal, get a very reluctant town council involved, or upset almost everyone else by brushing it under the carpet and letting Gutele von Bruner get away with it? At this point, the scenario opens up and becomes much more Player Character driven as they try to negotiate the way out of the legal and social mess that Gutele von Bruner has landed them in and the Game Master will need to respond as necessary. Although there is advice for the Game Master, this second half of the scenario is much more difficult to run and so needs much more preparation time to understand the various possible outcomes.

The third scenario, ‘Double Trouble’, is a classic country house murder mystery. It begins with the Player Characters being invited to visit the home of a young poet because he wants to hear of their adventures and adapt them into verse. The atmosphere in the poet’s home is tense and nervous, and not because he has invited what his mother considers to be riffraff onto the family estate, but because of the other reason that he wants the Player Characters there. The poet is also worried about the rash of recent and sudden disappearances from amongst the staff on his family’s estate and the odd behaviour of his mother, and he wants the Player Characters to investigate. When they do, the Player Characters discover similarly worried and nervous staff, hear odd movements in the night, and so on, their efforts hampered by the attitudes of the staff who do not trust them and the efforts of the murderer. With a scenario being a murder mystery in a country house and having a title like ‘Double Trouble’, it would suggest that a twin is involved—and it is. Sort of. The scenario includes a good floor plan of the family estate and some well NPCs, though again, as in ‘Deadly Dispatch’, not the true villain of the piece. There is also good advice on what to do if the Player Characters accuse the villain too early on and pleasingly, it culminates in a scene in the drawing room in which the Player Characters will have to identify the murderer, explain his actions and motives, and convince everyone of their solution to the case. In other words, a classic ‘I suppose you’re wondering why I gathered you here today…’ scene and the scenario even uses that phrase for the title of the actual scene! ‘Double Trouble’ is a cracking little scenario that puts a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay spin on a classic genre to very entertaining effect.

The fourth scenario, ‘The Blessing That Drew Blood’, is another murder mystery, but this time more procedural in nature and set on the streets of Ubersreik, with the Player Characters undertaking a lot of detective footwork as they slog from one murder site to the next and from one witness interview to the next. In fact, there are a lot of witnesses to interview and a party of Player Characters without a decent Charm between them is going to be at a disadvantage from start to finish. This is something the scenario acknowledges, noting its heavy reliance upon the Charm skill and suggesting alternative interpersonal skills to use such as Gossip and Intimidate. Throughout the investigation, the Player Characters will be watched with keen interest by a strange trio that include a cat and a dog, and beset by incidences of explosive bodily expression or sleepiness at just the wrong moment… Are they connected and if so, what is their interest in the Player Characters and their investigation? It turns out that they are working to ensure that the culprit responsible, a musician famous across the empire, succeeds, because they are all in the service of Slaanesh. The strange trio willingly because they are former daemons attempting to get back into Slaanesh’s good books and the musician half-heartedly because if she fails to kill the required number of victims, she loses the musical ability that has made her rich and famous.

‘The Blessing That Drew Blood’ is another scenario with a good set-up and a great cast of well-drawn and colourful NPCs, including a veteran agitator and muckraker, a scared initiate of Morr—who may also serve as the Player Characters’ patron for the adventure if needed, a hail and brimstone Sigmarite Warrior Priest with shameful secrets, and a bartender who attempts to avoid answering every question lest he gains a reputation as an informer! And then there is the trio of ex-daemons whom the Game Master can have some fun with inflicting horrid, if temporary, afflictions upon her Player Characters. Unfortunately, the scenario is not as clearly laid out as it should have been and some of the information does not always match in the text. Nevertheless, this is a good adventure that fans of police procedurals will enjoy a great deal.

The fifth and final adventure in the anthology is ‘The Grey Mountain Gold’. The Player Characters are hired by an ambitious young man who believes that he has got hold of a map which shows the locations of the treasures rumoured to have been left behind when the Dwarven Clan Harataki had to flee the Karak of House Harataken from constant Greenskin assaults and wants their help to mount an expedition. Only it turns out that not only is he gullible, but he has been targeted by a gang of charlatans, because of course, the map is fake. How far the Player Characters are taken in by the conmen is another matter, but complicating the problem is that the remnants of Clan Harataki are based in Ubersreik and when Queen Vilda of Karak Branar gets to hear about it, she is less than pleased to learn that someone is going after treasures that rightfully belong to her and her clan. The other dwarves of Clan Harataki, in comparison, are incensed and with their ire up, are quite happy to give the culprits a good thumping, all of which sets up a scene where the Player Characters are chased through the alleys of Ubersreik by mob of disconsolate dwarves! This is an entertaining set piece, though one not helped by the lack of a map. One of the pleasures of this scenario is seeing a con in action with the Player Characters being caught up in it rather than being the target per se, whilst another is seeing a signature Career from Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, that of the Charlatan, in action. Of course, if the players and their characters are unhappy at the end of the scenario because they did not actually have a chance to mount an expedition to Karak of House Harataken, then this scenario does actually show them why it might be a bad idea.

One of the aspects of Ubersreik which is not explored in full in the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set or Ubersreik Adventures: Six Grim and Perilous Scenarios in the Duchy of Ubersreik, is what happened to the ruling House Jungfreud after it was unseated by the Emperor. This, though, is explored in Ubersreik Adventures: More Grim and Perilous Scenarios in the Duchy of Ubersreik. House Jungfreud has fled back to its ancestral seat of the neighbouring Duchy of Black Rock, a grim and gloomy place best known for its coal or ore mines, where Graf Sigismund von Jungfreud alternates between glowering and preparing for war, wary of the Emperor’s next steps. All of this is detailed in the penultimate section of the book, ‘A Guide to Black Rock’. This details the craggy, rock-strewn moorlands, it various town and settlements, mines along with a list if miner’s slang, the site of a ruined abbey which along with its monks and nuns was put to the torch for heresy and is still haunted by a tomb banshee who was the former abbess, the source of Neufaljung ink typically used to sign death warrants, Castle Neufaljung—seat of House Jungfreud—and its inhabitants, and the various plots whirling around the castle and the duchy. Alongside this are numerous hooks and sidebars that the Game Master can develop into scenarios and plotlines, and overall, this a good introduction to the duchy with plenty of information for the Game Master to work with.

Lastly, Ubersreik Adventures: More Grim and Perilous Scenarios in the Duchy of Ubersreik does actually return to the subject of The Enemy Within, but in an unexpected fashion. This is as consequences of the campaign, as if there is another group of Player Characters involved in it rather than those in Ubersreik. This further divorces Ubersreik Adventures: More Grim and Perilous Scenarios in the Duchy of Ubersreik and its events away from those of The Enemy Within beyond those consequences, whilst allowing the Game Master to take them into account even if she has no intent of running the campaign herself. Alternatively, a group of players could actually play both, but with different characters, so that the one set of characters experience the events of The Enemy Within and the other characters’ activities if only vicariously. It is a nice addition and interesting to the campaign from a different angle even if it does give away a lot of detail about The Enemy Within.

Physically, Ubersreik Adventures: More Grim and Perilous Scenarios in the Duchy of Ubersreik is very well presented. The book itself is a handsome hardback and the book’s artwork—especially in its depiction of the NPCs—and cartography are both well done. However, the anthology needs an edit to fix final errors and to make sure that some of the plots and their information is clearer.

Ubersreik Adventures: More Grim and Perilous Scenarios in the Duchy of Ubersreik is another solidly impressive set of scenarios that enables a group to continue playing the campaign begun in the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set, whilst also being flexible enough to be set elsewhere in the Empire and the Game Master’s campaign. ‘A Guide to Black Rock’ very nicely expands upon the source material in the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set, but really the two standout scenarios in the anthology both involve murder—‘Double Trouble’ and ‘The Blessing That Drew Blood’. Although it is a good anthology of scenarios in general, the Game Master who has set her campaign in Ubersreik is definitely going to want to run the scenarios in Ubersreik Adventures: More Grim and Perilous Scenarios in the Duchy of Ubersreik.

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