Welcome to 2021, everyone! Have a safe and happy new year, and let’s kick it into high gear with a lengthy Warhammer post, shall we?
Last time I’ve explained why I generally dislike the endings to the venerable “The Enemy Within” and the 2nd edition’s “Terror in Talabheim”. This time I will explain why I don’t really enjoy the ending to my favorite WFRP campaign of all time – “The Thousand Thrones”.
Written for a finale of the 2nd edition, “TTT” is a lengthy, epic and very, very hard module, which has the PCs traversing almost the entirety of the Empire, the Wasteland and even the frozen Oblast of Kislev! It’s a immense and multi-layered tale of faith, terror, hope in the post-war Old World, as well as of the dangers of blind conviction. Reading through this book is a joy and a unique experience, and I would strongly advise to give it a read-through, even if you don’t plan to GM it. As for myself – I’m currently on my 4th playthrough of “The Thousand Thrones” and… I see that it has more problems than I originally noticed. Most of them, unfortunately, center around the ending itself.
Spoilers ahead, although I will do my best to limit them.
Ok, so first of all this campaign was written by multiple authors and had a troubled development (supposedly) – it’s important to take these things into account when looking closer at the overall product. Until approximately chapter 6 (out of 9… nice!) the whole story is pretty cohesive. There is a short interlude around chapter 2, but after that it’s smooth sailing… until chapter 7, when the party is taken into a completely different direction then the main plot, so to speak. Part 7 is also chock-full of VERY difficult puzzles which pracitcally require a group with a very specific sets of skills to crack them all. Anyway, at the end of this chapter our heroes learn that the whole endeavor was practically pointless, and that their original group has already left for Kislev.
Chapter 8 sees them rush, almost without preparation, gear and supplies towards one of the most hostile environments in the entire Old World. It is at this point that the previous (chapters 1, 4, 6 especially) investigative tone gets ditched almost completely, replaced by a very on-the-rails experience, in which certain things will happen, no matter what the heroes will or will not do. While I don’t have any problems with railroading and tightly written scenarios (in facti I prefer them to sandbox ones), this is just too excessive. The players become spectators in a play in which they have very little to say, except to react to various things thrown in their way. This in itself is not too bad, since chapter 8 is pretty lenient, at least compared to chapters 3 and 5, for example. Still – if I’d play this part, I know that I would get bored and fast.
This, however, is nothing when compared to the final chapter in the book – part 9. It sees our heroes confront the final evil of the story and choose one of three or so possible endings. So where’s the problem in that?
There are a few, and they’re all major problems for a final part of a truly epic, and (mostly) excellent campaign. First of all, it’s a dungeon crawl and a merciless one at that. I don’t know how this part passed the quality control, beacuse acquiring a random mutation, almost automatically, every x minutes, every time that a PC loses even a single HP, and when they pick quest-important items, is just excessive. Second of all, plunging the PCs into a dark, dingy maze, after forcing them to swim through monster-infested waters (say goodbye to your gunpowder and other pieces of gear, suckers!) is just cruel. Without magic, which by the way generates miscasts almost automatically in that place, or some VERY good thinking, the heroes won’t be able to see, since they’re in a underwater grotto! Sure, there are small pieces of luminescent lichen, but they give almost no light. By Sigmar, that’s just cruel!
Then there are enemies. Tons of them, and they’re tough, really tough. There’s the strongest, combat-oriented enemy in that place, and A) he’s not even the final boss, and B) he’s surrounded by a literal army of evil dudes. The fact that he and his army are battling another one, doesn’t really matter, nor it makes the danger that they present any less likely to affect the PCs. The enemies in chapter 9 are downright sadistic, and I would like to remind you that every time they wound a character, he or she needs to make a Toughness check or friggin’ mutate!
Oh, there’s another villain who shows up at one point and he has a insta-kill sword, a retinue of burly dudes and he’s a magician as well. Half of his party induces fear, himself included, and they all carry all manner of nasty diseases. What’s that? Is that the sound of bullshit that I detect? It can’t be!
Crap, forgot to mention the random vampires, wandering through the corridors. Silly me.
Then there are puzzles and the time limit, which the GM needs to keep track of, using an actual stopwatch. Our heroes need to find a set of keys to proceed to the final sanctum of evil. Oh, some of said keys are fake and can mutate you instantly. Yes, really. Someone wrote this, someone else greenlighted this. All the while various chambers in the grotto present myriad of dastardly traps, including instant death ones, teleporting people to other parts of the world (said person is out of the game if that happens) and, of course, offering various, nasty mutations.
So to sum it up – the PCs have a rather short ammount of time to run through the maze, without any map or even a chance to get one, with only a single chamber in which they can actually regain their wounds, avoid or confront some of the nastiest enemies ever written for WFRP, get the correct keys and use them to enter the inner sanctum.
I’ll be real with you – if even half of the party will live to that point, and with just 4-5 mutations for each member, I’d consider this a good run. Don’t count on magic for healing either. Like I’ve said before, this shithole is so suffused with chaos that any caster is only asking for trouble if he’ll decide to use his powers here. It’s a bloody gauntlet, pure and simple. A worst case of dungeon crawl, which are never a good idea when it comes to Warhammer. They don’t work well in “Karak Azgal”, they don’t work well in “Lure of the Liche Lord”, and they sure as hell don’t work well in “The Thousand Thrones”.
So, after all this bloody mess the heroes finally enter the inner sanctum and confront both the most important NPC of this campaign, as well as possibly a unkillable final boss. I am not joking, you’ve read that right. We are talking about a creature that has every stat on 88 (nice nod towards the main chaos number), is a powerful magician, a godly fighter and… can control minds with “only” a -30 Willpower roll to resist her. Oh, and she has a literal army of giant, mutated spiders at her command. Again, I am not kidding. The PCs by now will most likely to think that to defeat her they must give their all, and pray for high attack rolls. No, it is not the way. I mean, yeah – technically they can do that, but she will fucking regenarate in a little while.
Wow, even writing this down makes me realize how much bullshit this ending actually has.
So yeah, anyway, to defeat her the players must either take her remains from a certain room to another room, and throw them into a chaos portal, hoping that they won’t be forced to jump into it as well. If they do it’s game over, by the way. The other way to defeat this monstrosity is to… talk to the aformentioned NPC and ask him to tell her to go away.
I am dead fucking serious. The key to defeating the final boss which can destroy the whole world, is to essentialy tell it to leave.
Wow, someone took money for this. Someone actually had balls to write a ending like that. I am speechless. The best part is that the players won’t even think about doing it like that. Not after what they went through in the campaign, not to mention in that hellish place. So yeah, enjoy fighting the Satan himself, while he has the infinite lives cheat on. Good luck.
There are two other endings as well. To keep it short – one included fighting a bunch of high level vampires, all at the same time, and the other one doesn’t even let players fight the final boss, because fucking Nagash reincarnates and kills everyone. The ending to this campaign is the most “rocks fall, everybody dies” thing that I ever saw. There’s no, and I repeat, no good ending to “The Thousand Thrones”. The best one, that the author graced us with, states that the PCs thwarted the evil, albeit only for some time (unless they’ve destroyed the bones, which in 99% of playthroughs they did not), but are now heavily mutated and will almost certainly travel north to the Chaos Wastes, since there’s no place for them in the civilised lands.
I am dead serious, this is the “happy” ending.
Now look, I love and accept the core idea of Warhammer – there are no heroes, no happy endings, no justice. There is only gray, short-term victory with little to no certainty for a better future. That said, the endings to this campaign are just absurdly bad. It takes around a year of regular gaming to finish it, it is very hard and the players will lose many of their characters. To end this truly epic and immense story in such a anti-climactic way is simply poor. Even I, who often prefer his stories to end on a bitter note, realise and accept that the finale to “The Thousand Thrones” is just bad. It’s not medicore, sorta ok-ish, passable, no – it’s just bad, and there’s nothing anyone can say that will convince me otherwise.
So how can we fix it? I know that the guys at “Liber Fanatica” created player aids for this campaign, which include heaps of additional material (some of it supposedly semi-official), some of which can help with the finale. I would seriosuly recommend checking it out, especially since all of their work is of the highest quality. As for me… I don’t have anything in mind. I don’t like the last two chapters of this campaign, especially the 9th one. Chapter 7 is cool to read through, and while it is very unlikely that the PCs will ever get the huge price at the end (which might help in the final part), it is at least a decent investigative story, taking place in the lesser-known parts of the Empire. Chapter 8 is too on-the-rails, and the finale is just poor. It is downright sadistic, cruel, unplayable, and unwinabble, which is the worst thing really. Because no matter how hard a campaign can be, how much grim and perilous it gets, there should always be a way for the players to go through it successfuly. “The Thousand Thrones” does not give the PCs this option, and that’s why its ending is simply bad.
I still love this campaign. Always had a soft spot for it, despite its many flaws, both big and small. You can read my review of it here.
So here it is – my first post of 2021. I had a blast writing it. I plan to do a lot more things this year. There will be more movie reviews, at least two interviews (feel a bit bad that I haven’t scored a single one in 2020), and maybe something completely unexpected! Anyway, huge thanks to my readers for sticking with me through all these years. Have a safe and happy 2021 and praise Sigmar!
Until next time!