Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay – The Enemy Within: Death on the Reik and Companion Review
The Enemy Within campaign for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is often celebrated as one of the greatest RPG adventures ever put to paper, sending the party across the empire for a glimpse behind the curtain at the dark forces of Chaos manipulating the Warhammer World. Last year, Cubicle 7 released the first volume of the “Director’s Cut” campaign, Enemy in Shadows for the 4th edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay to much fanfare and put out an outstanding pair of books welcoming both fans of the classic and new players to the gripping story. In our review we particularly loved the addition of a companion book that both expanded the campaign but also offered a toolbox for all your games of WHFRP, really setting the benchmark for roleplaying content.
On it’s way very soon is the second part of the campaign – Death on the Reik, and we have been lucky enough to get a copy a little early from Cubicle 7 to review along with the Death on the Reik Companion. So get on board and ready to start our adventure down the Reik!
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Death on the Reik Review
Death on the Reik continues the adventure started in Enemy in Shadows, with the party continuing their journey from Bogenhafen towards Altdorf and the repercussions of their interactions with the Purple Hand cult. In a more open format due to the introduction of travel down the Reik by boat, the adventurers are given a lot more freedom to explore and sideline the GM – However the book does a great job of suggesting ways to make sure the adventure stays on course such as encouraging the players to make plans for where they are headed to in the next session in order to give you time to craft any encounters required or concoct a clever way of bringing them back on your wanted course.
The adventure itself is split into 8 chapters which themselves are each easily ran in a session or two. These are easily located throughout the book with clear colour coded chapter markings making flipping to the content you are currently using a painless process. Layout is also very helpful with boxouts detailing any important information that can be handy to the GM such as charts of News and Rumours for you to roll on when your players are searching for info from NPCs.
Continuing from Enemy in Shadows we also see the return of “Grognard Boxes”. These offer suggestions of changes or additions in order to subvert the expectations of players who have experienced the campaign in past incarnations in order to give them something fresh and exciting. By taking what they know about the campaign and turning it on its head this makes sure that they are not able to “cheat” by using their prior knowledge, and in some cases simply doing what they did when they first played the game might actually have negative consequences. I love that Cubicle 7 have included these in order to make the game fresh for everyone even if they have played through the story in the past.
Throughout each chapter and handouts and maps are printed in full during the adventure, allowing you to see these details as you need them. In addition to this all handouts and maps are also reproduced at a larger size at the back of the book – allowing you to make copies and printouts to actually give to your players. I’m a big fan of physical props in roleplaying games, so I’ll take any excuse to hand my players any ink splattered handouts of worn old maps! By including them also in the chapter means that you also have it to hand yourself while the players are studying theirs.
At the end of each chapter we also get the non player characters collected together with their full stat blocks and any relevant info that will be useful for using them such as motivations and mannerisms. While I understand why these are gathered together at the end of a chapter, personally I’d have liked to have seen these included within the campaign at the moment they are introduced too, for the same reason that I’m a fan that the handouts are. From a practical point of view, having them at the end of the chapter means that you always know where to find them rather than flicking through the entire chapter, but equally it does mean you have to flip forward to that section when you encounter them. For a GM an ideal solution might be photocopying and cutting these out essentially giving you index cards for each NPC the party might encounter.
Something I also appreciate in this book are the clear suggested experience rewards that ensure that the party is advancing suitably inline with the adventure. Setting XP thresholds correctly is often something that can be tricky for a first time GM, so the fact the adventure clearly lists what can be earned makes this job a little easier!
As with the first instalment of the series, Death on the Reik is an absolutely gorgeous book with some phenomenal artwork and illustrations really capturing the feeling of The Empire and The Old World in general. In particular I absolutely love the illustrations of the NPCs as these give you a great feeling for how to embody these characters in your delivery as a GM. Equally the maps and handouts are excellently done with a nice variety of styles and designs making the world feel more real and lived in. Not even the inside cover space has been wasted, showing a full map of the Reikland on the inside front cover and a map of Castle Wittgenstein on the back inside cover!
The book also has an appendix details some alternate ideas for how your characters spend their experience with full details for mentors for 4 careers – The Boatman, The Wizard, The Physician and The Racketeer. These are detailed with full information about these mentor characters, any associated NPCs who interact with them and suggestions on how the characters will come across them and what form their mentoring might take. I really like this as a way of fleshing out the process of “levelling up” a character by really pushing the career rules from the core book to capture the feeling of your character seeking out a mentor and spending time to learn that role rather than suddenly changing career and learning the relevant knowledge just because they hit a magic number of XP. While it may not be to the taste of every group of players, I feel this is a worthy addition and hope we see more in the future books in the series.
As for the adventure itself, I don’t want to spoil anything as people will want to experience this themselves, but we see everything from obtaining your own ship and using it to navigate the various locations throughout the story, to a hunt for a mysterious meteorite wanted by the loathsome ratmen and culminating in a dungeon crawl through a castle before starting the voyage to Middenheim and the next volume “Power Behind the Throne”. Even if you are new to the role of running a campaign, the book makes things easy to follow and ensures that all required information is to hand and very much feels like one part of a larger story that will be continued through the remaining 3 books, and if the first 2 volumes are anything to go by then we are in for a treat!
Death on the Reik Companion Review
As with Enemy in Shadows before it, Death on the Reik is also accompanied by a Companion book that both further enhances The Enemy Within campaign. In addition to some bonus shorts, encounters and adventure hooks, the bulk of the book is focused on the detailed rules for boats and navigating the waterways of The Empire making this a must have book for GMs to pick up if they have any interest in a more aquatic Warhammer Fantasy Adventure!
In our previous review, I was most impressed with the Companion for the wealth of content within it’s pages, and the Death of the Reik Companion is no different in this regard being an essential part of your collection in my opinion.
The book describes itself as being the “DVD Extras” of the main campaign book, and this is a great analogy – we start with commentaries from the original illustrator of the first boxed set Martin McKenna andJames Wallis the former head of Hogshead publishing sharing their insight into the campaign followed by some Easter Eggs sharing some of the funny names, jokes and pop culture references the writers sneaked into the book!
With us having a Physician featured in the main book, we get a weighty chapter detailing the various herbs found in the Old World along with the seasons and location where they are found, cost and medicinal effects. I really like this section as gives wilderness based adventurers able to use herbs in place of getting supplies in town, and also a potential money making opportunity to some less well off characters!
Next up we have a couple of encounters cut from the main book that have been offered here either as an expansion to the campaign or ideas that could get baked into any other adventure. I quite like these as a way of filling in a session if your group goes off the carefully prepared path and to mix things up if your party is getting too comortable!
The vast bulk of the book is essentially a supplement on rivers and boats in games of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and something I am sure that will want to be in every GM’s toolkit. While this is thematically linked with the Death on the Reik book, we have a lot of content that could be adapted for any campaign with detailed rules on how ships work, navigation, damage and repairs and how to modify and upgrade ships!
This is backed up further with a whole host of characters, pirates and monsters that you might encounter on your river based adventures with encounter seeds listed that might spark an entire session from a chance encounter with another traveller on the river! As with other supplements we get the full stat blocks, any abilities they have as well as detailed descriptions and information. This again gives the GM a great resource for building their own adventures with some nice thematic river based elements – something I am very much looking forward to trying out myself!
We also get full rules for trading, allowing parties of Merchants able to make a decent living trading goods between cities (no doubt with the odd Warhammer World interference on the way!) Again, I really like this idea and allows for some very different sessions if you want to mix up your campaign! Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is at it’s best when it feels like you are just a part of a wider working world, and allowing you players to spend some time trading goods, venturing out to new locations to sell it and haggling over the price adds to this amazingly, even allowing you to catch them off guard when the person who they are selling their cargo to is actually the evil cultist pulling the strings from behind the curtain!
Speaking of cultists, we also get a chapter detailing the new cult introduced in Death on the Reik, the Red Crown. This is another Tzeentch cult and rival to the Purple Hand and the companion expands on the resources available to the GM in detailing them and their interactions with the party. We even get a career stat block that with GM permission can allow a player to become a Warrior of Tzeentch! While obviously not compatible with every campaign, this is a nice twist a GM may decide to allow!
Finally the book ends with a pair of additional short adventures that can be dropped into the main Death on the Reik story (with included suggestions on how best to tie them in) or taken for your own homebrew campaigns! Again these look great, and the second one “Vengeance of the Gravelord” is also set up to be resolved in later books in this series, giving your part a recurring adversary to turn up later in the story!
As with the main book, the Companion is gorgeous with brilliant artwork and illustrations throughout along with the same style of excellent handouts and maps!
So what do I think of Death on the Reik and the Companion? Cubicle 7 have done an amazing job of updating this campaign and putting it out in some gorgeous books filled with content both reimagined and new, allowing a new generation of people to play through this classic campaign. I do feel that if you are thinking about picking up Death on the Reik itself then you absolutely need to pick up the Companion alongside it, as it brings so much more stuff to the table with the river based parts of the main book really requiring the expanded rules in order to be enjoyed fully. The Enemy Within series has been excellent so far and I can’t wait to see what the future volumes bring!
Death on the Reik and the Companion are available to order now with general release imminent! Cubicle 7 provided Sprues & Brews copies for review purposes.