So, it’s finally here, part two (or three, depending upon how the counting is done) of The Enemy Within Campaign.
The adventure sees the heroes of Enemy in Shadows fleeing, perhaps extremely rapidly, from Bogenhafen with at best a couple of minor leads pointing towards dark insidious conspiracies beneath the Empire’s ‘civilised’ surface. What follows is a long, almost self-contained, adventure across the great waterways of The Reik and its tributaries.
Death on the Reik follows a very similar structure to Enemy in Shadows breaking down to a foreword, synopsis, eight chapters incorporating the adventure, a single appendix and a handout and map section (no longer with spoiler annotations).
The eighth chapter is the first part of the scenario Carrion up the Reik by James Wallis, originally published in the Hogshead reprint of Power Behind the Throne as an interquel that bridges the river bound part of the campaign to the city of Middenheim.
The adventure chapters, in contrast to the original, are broken down by the sections of riverways that are traversed, which is a welcome change as the original could be somewhat confusing. Some of these are possibly only a single session play, but several would likely span many. Additionally, due to the very open world nature of this part of the campaign, any number of other scenarios may easily be interjected.
DotR is a vast and sprawling adventure with mysteries to solve and even a couple of traditional[ish] dungeon crawls to boot.
Death on the Reik is the story of a noble family driven mad following the acquisition of a warpstone meteorite from Morrsleib itself several generations ago. The party get wind of this discovery while investigating another cult faction, The Red Crown, linked to the events in Bogenhafen.
Much of the first five chapters is a race between the players and The Red Crown to recover the meterorite, incorporating a couple of substantial scenarios/sub-plots. Over the course of these chapters it is necessary for the GM to track the progress of the players and the Red Crown, before any potential confrontation between the two parties takes place.
The plot begins (well, probably) by uncovering the research of a wizard tracking the warpstone meteorite at a disused observatory (now being rebuilt as a signal tower). Pursuing these clues, along with those from Enemy in Shadows, eventually sees the characters at the town of Wittgendorf, a miserable location of mutants and beggars. With the help of local outlaws, the characters infiltrate castle Wittgendorf and deal with the corrupted noble at the heart of the town’s troubles.
Along the way, there are a couple of minor urban encounters involving the Purple Hand, continuing the case of Mistaken Identity, a kidnapping to solve and opportunities for advancements and career changes. A rural hike leads to the impact crater of the warpstone meteorite and a large subplot with dwarfs, goblins with some typical WFRP subversion.
The final chapter sees the characters lose their barge and become coerced into acting as a courier transporting merchandise to Middenheim.
As the fourth edition version of TEW is less bound to the pre-generated characters than the original, it does struggle with finding motivation for the characters to go to certain locations. For example, Harbul would be striking up a relationship with Elvyra from Enemy in Shadows to continue his training but without him (or a near equivalent) this link to the earlier parts of Death on the Reik is a lot weaker.
Another example is Wanda, the apprentice wizard from the original, who would be visiting her mentor, Heironymous Blitzen, which was integral in the 1st edition version.
DotR attempts to address this within the appendix by adding a series of mentors that could be used at the GM’s discretion. Although this is a fine, perhaps a framework for adding mentors to the plot would have been useful. This is possibly something that could be addressed in more detail in the companion.
Another minor complaint is that the synopsis could be a little more substantial. I’m still lacking a feel for how the campaign ends post Power Behind the Throne. This is exacerbated by the inclusion of Carrion up the Reik, which was originally planned by James Wallis to link to the unpublished Hogshead rewrite of Empire in Flames. Hopefully those threads will come to something in the Director’s Cut.
As noted in the comments section, River Life of the Empire, an integral part of the original version, is not present in this book. Instead, it will be included in the Companion. This decision was made to make way for Carrion up the Reik. River Life of the Empire contained (and presumably still will) useful information for trading, navigation and piloting and the social and economic nature of the towns and villages on the nation’s riverways. This will be invaluable for those wanting to really add meat to the adventurer’s time on the rivers. It’s also a reason for the events in Carrion up the Reik, as James Wallis noted, the characters may end up “a bunch of demented early renaissance Elite players,” and completely ignore the plot.
This is frustrating as this information is very useful but given the page count limitations the only option would be to remove the handouts and maps to a separate booklet similar to the Collector’s Edition. I suppose the positive spin is that this demonstrates how much useful content there is overall.
We’ve seen the return of the Grognard boxes and once again they contain interesting alternatives to mix things up for the players. There are perhaps not as many, again likely due to space limitations. Interestingly, they’re used most frequently at the end of the campaign to handle veteran players attempting to subvert the plot (some of them even suggest letting them do this).
The artwork is of a very similar standard to Enemy in Shadows, but I think some of the riverway vistas are level above, particularly the evocative rendering of Castle Wittgendorf. Maps are of a more consistently high standard, but perhaps one or two could benefit from being larger (Trail of the Red Crown in particular).
Overall, Death on the Reik is excellent. It was my second favourite WFRP adventure following Power Behind the Throne and contains dozens of hours of play at least and a whole lot more when the supplemental content comes out with the Companion. Unlike other parts of the campaign, it’s perhaps got a little bit for everyone: mysteries, hack’n’slash, investigations, dungeon crawls, rural and urban sequences and a lot of messing about on the river. The latter sections also include a very large dose of WFRP nihilism, particularly Castle Wittgendorf. I guess that’s all part of the fun.
[5 of 5 Stars!]