The burnout struggle is real…

Some days you just can’t force yourself to move forward. Today is such a day.

No lengthy, thematic post today folks. I just can’t gather the energy to write anything coherent or worthwile.

I’ll be honest with you, I’ve been having this kind of mood for months now. Sure, I guess that COVID-19 is mainly to blame, but the truth is, I just have way too much things to do on my head, and the feeling of burning out has been my constant companion for a very, very long time now.

Somedays you just can’t beat the blues…

In some ways this should come out as no surprise. I’ve been regularly writing on this blog for 6,5 years now. Mainly about Warhammer Fantasy, but I’ve covered other topics as well. Last year I’ve also migrated from Blogger to WordPress, which was a good choice, although it did damage my view count quite a bit. I know that this might sound strange, but I am also way older now, more tired, more busy and troubled. Everyday life is catching up to me, and more often than not in a very negative and depressing way. What once was a good, honest journey into my creative psyche, organised as a way to cope with grief from a passing of my close friend, now often becomes a tiresome chore. “Oh look, it’s that time of the month. Gotta post something”. Yeah, you know that it’s not a good thing, when you force yourself to write because it’s been two weeks since your last post. I’ve been doing this for quite some time now. It’s… tiring. There’s also little sense in continuing this.

What am I saying exactly? That the next post will be written in two weeks, according to schedule, and without any delays. That said, I will use this time to really think what I want to do with this blog in the future. I have no illusions: people are reading my work because they’re interested in Warhammer Fantasy. To this day my most popular posts are the End Times ones. I’ve tried to diversify my blog a bit, trying to insert a bit of Classic World of Darkness and Delta Green, as well as the ocassional video game or movie, but these posts are so patheticaly not interesting to my readers that I am really wondering if I’ll have to write about WFRP for the rest of this blog’s life cycle.

Don’t get me wrong, I like writing, talking and giving my opinions on Warhammer Fantasy. For almost 12 years now this has been my game of choice, and while I had a few crisises of faith, I’ve stayed faithful to it nonetheless. That said, it gets tiring. It gets so fucking tiring at times. That’s why I’ve needed to write this post, and that’s why I’ll use the next two weeks to try and realise what I want to do with my blog in the future. If I want to do anything at all.

Take care in these difficult times, people. Stay strong, stay healthy and take care of your loved ones.

Until next time

Xathrodox86

Xathrodox86 reviews: “Bloodline Miami” for Delta Green

We continue our journey into the eldritch and the unknown with a fan-made scenario for Delta Green, which takes place in the hot and humid city of Miami!

This is a personal favorite of mine as I was lucky enough to visit Miami, back in the late 90’s. I absolutely loved the atmosphere of the city (not so much the heat!), plus I’m a huge fan of the venerable Miami Vice tv show. Oh, and the Hotline Miami games which I’m pretty sure were a inspiration of sorts, when it came to the title of this scenario. With its bright neon lights, festive atmosphere and constant stream of tourists, you may think Miami is far from a perfect place for a Delta Green op. You would be wrong. Oh so very, very wrong…

These colorful streets hide many horrors… (photo taken from Wikimedia Commons)

As usual – spoilers ahead, and this time they’re not minor. You have been warned.

The mission sounds simple enough. The agents are called to Miami by a friendly police officer who witnessed a horrifying crime scene. Bits of gangster bodies, slashed to shit with what looks like a huge knife, have been found in a old warehouse, together with lots of illegal weaponry and drugs. That was bad enough in itself. The worse part was the unnatural cold, permating the entire building with even the blood having freezed completely. Freezed.

In bloody Miami.

Yeah, something definitely fishy is going on here.

There’s also a single survivor of the attack and he’s been transported to a nearby hospital with only skeletal staff on sight. The man in question has a wounded arm, and tells a story of a tall man, wearing antler mask. It was this person who’s supposedly responsible for the whole massacre. The room in which the wounded criminal is staying is getting colder and colder, and the AC is off… The agents have a small time window to find the thing responsible for the whole mess, as well as the mad man who wanted to obtain in the first place.

The finale will make the operatives question their very sanity (not surprising since it is Delta Green after all) while facing off against not only a deranged and heavily wounded cultist of a murderous alien deity, but also against the most unholy of all mythosian spawns…

…THE WENDIGATOR!

R.I.P. the entire state of Florida. It was fun knowning you… (artwork done by Jedi-Art-Trick)

Hey, I warned you about the potential spoilers, right?

I’ve GMed “Bloodline Miami” twice, and in different time periods. I especially liked my first attempt, set in the 80’s. The atmosphere was on point, especially with the right soundtrack. The second playthrough was a “modern” one, and while the feel of the scenario was great, I would still recommend playing it in the era of flamingos and “snow”, as it should be. The whole op is a tough one to survive for the agents, since their enemies are not only monstrously strong and fast, but can also “gift” them with a nasty case of alien transformative disease. If this is the first mission of your group, I would seriously recommend tuning down the difficulty a bit (heresy, I know) or maybe make sure that they are appropriately prepared for the oncoming chilly encounter. Molotov cocktails, Dragon’s Breath rounds and flamethrowers are some of the absolute essentials for this operation. You have been warned, dear handlers.

“Bloodline Miami” was written by Turts for the 2018 Delta Green shotgun scenario contest, and you can find it here, together with many other, awesome adventures and game aids. This is a true favorite of mine, and I hope to run it at least a couple more times in the future.

Keep those flame rounds handy and… until next time!

Xathrodox86

Xathrodox86 reviews: “Last Things Last” for Delta Green

Aside from Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay there are a few other systems which I greatly enjoy. One of them is Delta Green – a fantastic, conspiracy-themed spin on the classic Call of Cthulhu.

In order to not go completely bonkers during these trying pandemic times, I’ve decided to diversify my writing a bit and take a look at other games. One of them is the aformentioned Delta Green, a title which I never had too much luck with when it came to GMing. Twice I ran a couple of scenarios but never managed to stick with DG for longer periods of time, which is a damn shame as this game not only has a great atmosphere, but equally excellent rules! Anyway, since this year I really want to spice things up a bit on my blog, I’ve decided to review a couple of Delta Green scenarios that I was lucky enough to run.

First let’s take a closer look at the classic and very wel written “Last Things Last”, from the Delta Green: Need to Know quick-start rulebook.

Warning! Slight spoilers ahead.

Written by Bret Kramer and Shane Ivey, this very short scenario follows the operatives as they try to find out if a recently diseased, former Delta Green agent left behind something that could potentially shed unwanted light on their organisation. Clyde Baughman worked for the agency during the 60s and 70s, and later as a affiliate. When he eventually died of a heart attack, his former empoyers decided to check if, by any chance, he left any unwanted info behind. That’s where the players come in. They will have to visit his dingy, depressing apartment and sift through it for any cluses, related to Delta Green. What looks like a routine, boring house search, quickly turns into a full-fledged investigation. It turns out that Mr. Baughman did had some secrets, and now they need to be dealt with, once and for all…

“Why grandma, what strange, greenish eyes do you have…”

I’ve ran”Last Things Last” four times and this scenario always worked like a charm. It is the perfect introduction to anyone who wishes to explore the fantastic, dark and mature system that is Delta Green. It mainly offers investigation opportunities, with little social interaction and, thankfully for the agents, very little combat at the very end. The authors made a wise decision not to put too many, potentially deadly encounters into this adventure – after all, it is a tutorial… of sorts. SAN loss is still possible, and there are even a few potential plot hooks for future ops included on its pages.

All in all “Last Things Last” is the adventure to run for a group who’s completely new to Delta Green, and wishes to see if this is a game for them. Each time it took me around 2-3 hours to run this scenario from beginning to end, and that included various cigarette and coffee breaks. I know that if I’ll ever get another opportunity, I will GM “Last Things Last” again. I highly recommend it to all future handlers out there.

You can download Delta Green: Need to Know from here.

Deception is a right. Truth is a privilege. Innocence is a luxury. Welcome to Delta Green.

Until next time!

Xathrodox86

Role-playing Rants: Why I dislike the endings of most official WFRP campaigns. Part 2.

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”.

In hindsight, the cover itself tells a lot about how this campaign will end…

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.

Hell, even a bunch of orcs found their way into this shithole. Although to be honest, they don’t present that big of a threat, at least when compared to other things lurking in that place…

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.

I can’t help it, I’m a sucker for epic, overblown and clearly unbalanced pieces of gaming fiction!

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!

Xathrodox86

Role-playing Rants: Why I dislike the endings of most official WFRP campaigns. Part 1.

Writing a RPG campaign isn’t easy. I know, I’ve written few of them during my lifetime. Creating a logical and climactic ending to a long lasting story is often a difficult and unforgiving task, and there is no guarantee that it’ll actually work!

Nowhere is this statement proven more true, than in the case of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. This is a game which has a lot of official campaigns available to its players, but are they all really worth playing? Do any of them actually have a good, satisfying ending?

As someone who played a lot of 2nd and 4th edition, and a couple of modules from the 1st, I can safely say that: no. They don’t have good endings. Or rather I should say that their finales are simply quite anticlimactic. For most part, that is.

Now take into consideration a couple of things, while reading this article. First of all it’s all my subjective opinion, obviously. Secondly – there will be spoilers for the following campaigns: “The Enemy Within” (1st edition), “Terror in Talabheim” and “The Thousand Thrones”. I will only describe those 3 modules, since I am most familiar with them. I’ve never played 3rd edition, having only read the rules a few years back, and I have not yet picked up the newest version of TEW for the 4th iteration of WFRP. This article is also exclusively about campaigns and not scenarios. So anyway, let’s take a look at why Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay’s official campaigns have (mostly) poor endings.

Oh and I will write about “The Thousand Thrones” in the second part of this tirade. Mainly because it is my most beloved campaign and the one that I’ve played the most in my life. I want my honest views on it to be extra well thought out, and I think they deserve a post of their own.

  1. “The Enemy Within” (1st edition)
The definition of a timeless classic… with a few blemishes here and there…

The first “TEW” is a gold standard when it comes to TTRPG campaigns. It is a timeless classic which untold thousands of people have played over the last 3 decades. It is also a mess when it comes to its structure. There are whole books when the Purple Hand plot just dissapears, only to reemerge later without any explanation. Sadly this is the main problem when it comes to “The Enemy Within”. From the very beginning we’re being told about this huge and sinister organisation, which has agents in every city in the Empire. The whole inheritance plot arc seems like a very important one, only to be dropped after the third part of the story. The whole Purple Hand arc is practically finished at the end of “Power Behind the Throne” and in a way that’s really making this whole, sinister cult look kinda incompetent. However that’s not the worst part. The worst part is the fact that after (mostly) very solid “PBtT” we’re treated to the universally disliked “Something Rotten in Kislev” which has zero connections to the wider campaign, and after that it’s we’re being thrusted into the “Empire in Flames”. This last book of “TEW” is not only much more linear then the previous ones, it is also not as good as “Death on the Reik” or “Shadows over Bögenhafen”. The entire civil war part feels extremely hamfisted, the search for Ghal-Maraz is boring, and the ending with the Greater Daemons who’s a total chump is more played for laughs, then as a serious, tense and climactic finale to this grand-scale adventure.

Oh and I think that it’s completely anticlimactic for the PCs to become nobility at the end of the campaign. Come one, this is Warhammer, not D&D!

How would I fix the ending? Personally I would make “Power Behind the Throne” the finale of the entire campaign. Yes, the fan-made “Empire at War” is good, but I feel that the death of the Wasmeier at the end of PBtT would be the best moment to end the entire campaign. Naturally it would have to be a bit more complex and difficult (the whole siege of Wasmeier’s house is kinda meh), and I couldn’t imagine Purple Hand not remianing a serious threat to the Empire, even if their power and infulence would take a huge hit.

I still think that this ending would not be 100% perfect, but I do prefer it much more to the official one.

2. “Terror in Talabheim”

One of my favorite WFRP campaigns of all time, and one that is kinda forgotten nowadays – “Terror in Talabheim” plays on the age old fear of being stuck in a city ravaged by a deadly plague and… rats. Large, bipedal rats with maniacal plans for world domination. The first part of this campaign is great at building tension – from getting glimpses and suggestions about the approaching plague, to getting locked in the city with thousands of infected people, to the eventual Skaven assault. Oh and just one assault! First we’re being treated to the savage but undisciplined mass charge of the Pestilens, but the second wave is even more deadly. The description of elite and disciplined hordes of Grey Seer Asorak charging through the streets of the Eye of the Forest were so damn awesome and chilling!

Talabheim is one of the wonders of the Old World, and a heluva defensible position!

Later we get the more sandboxy part about organising the resistance. That’s where the first cracks heralding a medicore ending, begin to show. Most of “TiT” is pretty scripted (albeit in a good way). For it to transition to a more open-world, free-roam game is a major change in tone, and a major risk. By this point the players might be accustomed to the more tightly structured adventure, and many of them can have problems with changing their approach to playing the game.

However the worst part comes at the very end. First of all the writers give us an idea of siding with the remnants of Clan Pestilens. Now, even though it’s Warhammer we are talking about, most players would never go for that approach. There is being a bastard and then there’s collaborating with Skaven. Even a complete and total bastard will have serious qualms of working alongside one of Empire’s worst and oldest enemies. Second of all the ending is… unresolved. By that I mean that there’s no definitive one. The authors give a couple ideas how to end the whole thing, and what certain choices would mean for the city, the PCs and the Empire army stationed outside the walls. There’s no epic battle with Asorak and his Albino Guard, no final stand in the High Watch. Yeah, “TiT” wants you to eventually off the nasty Grey Seer, but there’s nothing else – and that’s dissapointing. Even with the snadbox-style final chapter, the finale to a campaign like that should be cohesive and suitably epic. When I’ve GMed “Terror in Talabheim” for the second time, I added a whole major battle in the High Watch with the clock ticking mercilessly, as the besieging Empire army was slowly moving up the Wizard’s Way towards the gates leading to the city. It went great and was very memorable, but here’s the thing – the authors should’ve done that, not me. Sandbox can only take you so far. RPGs are stories, and every story needs a good ending. We didn’t get a good one here.

In the end the PCs, once again, become the heroes… only to actually have to escape the city, since the jealous nobility wants them dead. While this ending is rather WFRP-like, the way that it is written is pretty hamfisted. “Oh yeah, you’ve saved the city so according to laws you are now its rulers. The noble men and women won’t stand for that so you have to bail. Bye!”. I’m not kidding, this is how it basically ends and even the length of the ending is similar to the paragraphb that I’ve written above. For shame authors, for shame.

I am ending this tirade for now, but let me make one thing perfectly clear – I really enjoy these campaigns and I know that the GM always needs to put some work into the ready-to-play modules, to make them work in 100%. Perhaps it’s because of his style, or his players, but in the end even the pre-written campaigns need some tweaking, which I actually like doing a lot. I’ve turned my last “TEW” playthrough into a espionage romp, and 3 years ago I’ve inserted a lot of gritty, military-oriented themes into my “Terror of Talabheim” game. Both players and me had a blast and in the end that is all that matters.

This is my last post of 2020. Despite being hard and difficult, it was a very productive year for me as a hobbyist. I’ve prcatically doubled my RPG and battle games collection, started 5 new Horus Heresy armies (and assembled one for a friend) and watched lots of good movies! In these trying and harsh times, I think it’s important to find joy in little things, and for me my hobbies always help when the times are rough. I hope that 2020 was not too hard on you, dear readers, and I wish you all the very best. Take care and I’ll see you next year!

Edit: Part 2 is now live. You can find it here!

I would also like to thank Jim and Elie from the excellent WFRP Game Masters Facebook fanpage for being top blokes and wonderful people all around. Being a part of your admin team is a pleasure and a privilege. Joining it was certainly one of the highlights of 2020.

Oh and one last thing – I am damn happy that my first post of 2021 will be about “The Thousand Thrones”, my favorite campaign of all time.

This title always brings a crooked smile to my hairy face…

Until next time!

Xathrodox86

Xathrodox86 reviews: “Three Gentlemen of Pavona” by Alexander J Bateman

Only two more posts to go, before the most interesting years of 2020 comes to an end. For the final one I have something special, but for this one it’s time for another scenario review!

“Three Gentlemen of Pavona”, for the venerable 2nd edition of WFRP, have been sitting in my scenarios folder for quite some time (more than 9 years!), and I’ve never gave them even a single look. It’s thanks to Andreas Pischner that I’ve decided to read this very interesting, albeit quite linear adventure.

Written by Alexander J Bateman, author of the excellent “Burn After Printing”scenario, it takes place in Pavona (duh), and follows the party as they try to stop a sinister plot to overthrow Lucrezzia Belladonna, the rule of the city. The conspirators, the titular Three Gentlemen of Pavona, have decided that it’s time for their city to undergo a change in management, and so they want to use their wealth, as well as darker means, to get rid of the beautfiul Princess of Pavona.

The PCs are hired by one of the conspirators who decided to bail on the whole thing, once dark magic and necromancy became involved. Alternatively our anti-heroes can be enlisted to help by a city watch captain by the name of Gallardo who wants them to help him with this unfortunate mess. All the while the citizens of Pavona are in festive moods, since it’s Carnival time, and everyone is drinking, dancing, whoring and generally having a grand old time. Oh and masks – they’re all the rage during the carnival season.

Let’s get this party started!

Let’s get one thing out of the way – this is a linear scenario. For me it’s not a bad thing since I like my adventures scripted and linear, even railroady at times. That said, I know that for a lot of folks out there this is a negative trait, and that’s only fair. Open world, sandboxy modules usually give both the GM and his players more options. “Three Gentlemen of Pavona” is your typical “from point A to point B” kind of adventure, and in my opinion that’s why it works. It’s fast paced, exciting and dynamic, just how I like my Warhammer.

Bateman does an excellent job in describing the Carnival in Pavona, its atmosphere, sounds and smells. There’s a whole section about masks and how they can influence social interactions. The description of Pavona itself is rather scarce, but the basics are really all that’s needed. The author presents a couple of random encounters to spice up the scenario a bit and all of them are really interesting (the Mask Seller one was my favorite). When I was reading this module, I could almost imagine myself walking through the twisted streets of this fascinating Tilean city.

Without spoiling too much, I can only say that this scenario will require a group of heroes who know how to handle a sword, as well as their wits. The combat encounters are gradually getting harder and more difficult, and there are even enemies here who can’t be harmed by normal weapons. Few of the adversaries have been created specifically for this scenario, and I absolutely love their descriptions and rules. I’m sure that I’ll be using Ash Spectres in a couple of my future games! The final battle can be a bit rough for a unsuspecting party, so keep those Fate Points handy.

The author made an outstanding job with writing a detailed set of NPCs and goons for our heroes to encounter, and I love that almost every single one of them has a detailed background. Hell, even the stuff they carry has often a background of its own! This meticulous attention to detail is why I admire the “Three Gentlemen of Pavona” so much. I’m also a sucker for adventures in which the PCs can meet famous historical figures from Warhammer lore. In the case of this particular module we get a mention (and stats!) of Lucrezzia Belladonna herself, and she is one nasty lady. Reading through her character sheet really made me respect the Princess of Pavona a lot more. There’s also mention of a lesser known Lord of Change by the name of Amon ‘Chakai, who was a very powerful daemonic character in the older editions of Warhammer Fantasy Battle.

Finally we have the Potions and Poisons appendix, and it’s simply awesome. Bateman presents his readers with quite a few of interesting concotions, both benevolent and deadly. All of them are useful for any GM who wishes to move from the official ones and introduce something new. My two favorite ones are Skalm and Wyrdstone Perfume, both very climactic and… dangerous.

Finally we have a set of ready-to-play characters which can be useful for new time players, or if the party doesn’t have anyone who speaks Tilean (this can be a problem in this adventure). They’re pretty standard and reminded me of the heroes from 2nd edition’s Game Master’s Pack. Of course these ones mostly have a distinctive Tilean feel to them, which shouldn’t really be surprising.

Bateman also created a couple of magical items for his scenario, and as with his potions and poisons, they’re written really nicely, although if any of my players would get his hands on the Jaguar Mace, it would immediately mean a serious in-game difficulty increase.

Oh and more thing, which is actually darn important. The author included a custom “quirk” mechanic in this adventure. Basically they’re like additional Fortune Points for characters, which are “restricted in their use by the descriptor” (author’s exact words). There’s a complete “Character Quirks” document which describes them in detail, as well as describes how to allow the PCs to get them. That said I’m not a fan of this mechanic. It gives the players a bit too much of a advantage, and I don’t think that it’s needed, especially with Fate and Fortune Points already existing.

All in all I really like this scenario. I haven’t ran it yet, but next year I’ll certainly try and change that. Alexander J Bateman did a very solid, complex and passionate work with the “Three Gentlemen of Pavona”, and I’m thankful for grumpy Andreas to introduce me to this fine adventure.

Until next time… for the last time in 2020!

Xathrodox86

P.S. Last week I’ve noticed that 2020 lacks the annual Grimvember event! I swear, I totally forgot about it this year, and for that I’m sorry. That said I did quite a few reviews of various WFRP scenarios during the first lockdown, with my “Beat the boredom!” series, so I think that I’ve still did my duty, so to speak. Grimvember will certainly return next year!

Xathrodox86 reviews: “Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest”

Today I’m finishing my World of Darkness video game reviews with a trip to the ancient Białowieża forest…

“Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest” is a interesting title in the World of Darkness’ Steam offer, albeit one with which I had the least ammount of fun. Developed by Different Tales, it is a visual novel role-playing video game, similar in mechanics to both “Vampire: The Masquerade” titles, but with a bigger emphasis on character progression. It is entirely text-based, just like the two Vampire games were. It was released in October of 2020 on Windows, Linux and MacOS.

Oh, just a word of caution – there will be slight spoilers ahead.

When Will You Rage?

You play as Maia Boroditch, a young American girl of Polish ancestry, who visits Białowieża to learn more about her history. Maia has recurring nightmares about wolves, blood and forests, and she wishes to discover her roots. She’s accompanied by Anya, a fellow student, and Bartek – a young boy who lives in Białowieża and is a son of a prominent local politician. Along the way she encounters a plethora of interesting characters, most of them involved heavily in the fight against the deforestation of Białowieża. Soon, Maia will learn the secrets of this unique and fascinating place, her heritage as a Boroditch, and her ultimate fate as one of the shapeshifting Garou – the werewolf warriors of Gaia.

As is the case with the pen & paper “Werewolf: The Apocalypse”, this game has a very strong enviornmental theme to it. This important topic is presented in a interesting and engaging way, and I never had a feeling of being force-fed it by the creators. Białowieża is one of the last primeval forests in Europe, and its importance to the ecosystem, as well as Polish culture is beyond question. That said some of the older WTA material could be a bit… preachy, when it came to such things. I’m glad that the people at Different Tales chose the right approach with the message that they wanted to convey. “Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest” also tackles the difficult topics of antisemitism, homophobia and racism, all real issues in the eastern Poland. Again – kudos to the devs for showing these issues in a serious and mature manner.

The characters are a interesting bunch. Maia reminds me of the protagonist of “Coteries of New York” in that her personality really depends on the player’s actions and decisions. Sadly, after finishing “Shadows of New York”, almost no one can top the wonderfuly depressing Julia Sowinski, and Maia is no exception. She is young and naive, especially about her “true” heritage, but in the end she isn’t memorable in any real way, which is a shame. Strong, well written female characters are still a rarity in video games.

Anya and Bartek, Maia’s closest companions, also work as her moral dilemma options. Anya is strongly against the removal of the trees, while Bartek advises caution when it comes to any pro-ecological choices. Of course our main heroine can always ignore both of them, but that’s where the relationship mechanic kicks in. Depending on Maia’s attitude towards people, she can either make friends or enemies, and these choices may have impact on the ending of the game. Maia can be a dick to almost everyone she meets along the way, but she can also show compassion, fighting spirit and wit – all of which will make different impressions on various NPCs.

Aside from Bartek and Anya, “Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest” presents a colorful cast of pro-environmental activists, local policemen and politicans, as well as a few supernatural denizens of the World of Darkness. They’re all presented in a interesting manner, although some of the obviously “bad” people sometimes feel a bit cartoonish. I’m looking at you, Minister of Environment. That said I really enjoyed learning about her ancestry and how it still haunts her bloodline. The devs really showed us that the Garou, while acting for the greater good, can be incredibly brutal and uncompromising in their quest. That’s the part of Werewolf: The Apocalypse which I always enjoyed the most.

Graphics and music are kinda interesting. The entire theme of the game is that there’s something lurking right under Maia’s nose, something ancient and primeval. It’s the Puszcza, which in this game works as a entity in itself. It reaches to our heroine in her dreams, urging her to embrace her heritage and become a warrior of Gaia, just like her ancestors did many years ago. The uneasy tension is really felt in the hazy color palette, as well as the minimalistic soundtrack. Throughout the majority of the game, we’re getting the feeling of a build up of tension, and of a imminent, encroaching threat…

…right until the final act of the game, when Maia experiences her first transformation. After that the secrecy and tensions kinda dissapear and all that’s left are conversations with your packmates. While interesting in their own way, they’re sadly not that engaging and with Maia now embracing her true nature, the secrecy and tension of her mysterious bloodline are gone. I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing, but I much more enjoyed the young Boroditch’s adventures when she was still “human”.

Oh, and there’s the quasi-RPG system that I almost forgot about. Maia has three stats – Rage, Willpower and Health. Rage is used in making direct, brash and aggressive decisions, while Willpower is spent when Boroditch has to make difficult in-game choices. Health is pretty self explanatory, and there are certain events in game which can lead to Maia loosing her strength and suffering various inujries. All of these traits can be replenished during game, usually when acting in accordance to Maia’s goals and personality (which can also change, by the way).

Finally, after her first transformation, Maia is forced to assign her character to one of the five auspices of Garou’s culture, based on the lunar cycle. Naturally I went with Theurge because that was the one auspice which I always RPed as, back in my WTA days. Plus I like the idea of a warrior-philosopher, so yeah, it was a natural choice for me. Young Boroditch’s character sheet changes slightly after her Rite of Passage, and she also has to take a patron to guide her in her future quest as a warrior of Gaia. While these choices are interesting, they’re not really THAT important when it comes to the ending of the game. Still, I liked the fact that the devs tried to show us the difficult struggles of a young werewolf who just begins to explore the mysteries of her kind, as well as their ultimate quest to defeat the Wyrm.

Speaking of which, there is almost no combat in this game. Yeah, like none at all. There are a couple of skirmishes, and we can later savage people as the good old Crinos, but in the end this game is very light on conflict and physical violence. I gotta say, I absolutely love this approach. It could’ve been very easy for the developers to throw Maia against Fomori and Black Spiral Dancers or even a Pentex First Strike Team. Instead they’ve opted for more private and personal journey, one which shows the fear, uncertainty and cluelessness of our main heroine. I think that this was the way to go here, and like with “Coteries of New York”, this game is perfect for people who are just beginning their journey with the grim and fascinating World of Darkness.

“Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest” only took me 3,5 hours to finish, and I was trying to explore as much of the game as possible. For the price that I’ve paid it’s simply too short. While Maia Boroditch’s journey was a fascinating and tense adventure, the very short length left some bad taste in my mouth. Hopefully the sequel, if Different Tales ever make one, will be much longer. The devs proved that they can create interesting characters and weave a tight and engaging story. Now we only need a title of decent length to fully enjoy their work, and we’re good to go. I sincerely hope that in the future, Different Tales will deliver us a fully-fledged Werewolf: The Apocalypse experience, and one that we will remember for a very long time.

I suggest waiting for a Steam sale, and then grabbing “Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest”. For the current price it is simply too short. Well, unless you’re a die-hard WTA fan, in which case purchasing this title should probably be a no-brainer.

Until next time!

Xathrodox86

Xathrodox86 reviews: “Vampire: The Masquerade – Shadows of New York”

Two weeks ago I reviewed “Coteries of New York”, a Vampire: The Masquerade visual novel-like adventure game. Today it’s time to take a look at its standalone expansion –
“Shadows of New York”!

Created by Draw Distance, “Shadows of New York” takes place about a year after its predecessor. It follows the nocturnal adventures of Julia Sowinski, a vampire from the sinister clan Lasombra. Julia is a representative of her clan in NY’s Camarilla, which unfortunately for her doesn’t mean much. The undead power players in New York don’t take her or her position seriously, and more often than not she feels like she doesn’t really belong in the vampiric society. A mysterious murder of a prominent Anarch will give her a chance to change things for the better, earn the respect of the Big Apple’s most powerful Cainites and make her sire proud.

Talk about impossible tasks!

“Shadows of New York” works in the exactly same way as “Coteries…”. You’ll interact with various kindred and mortals, and you will need to make certain choices during conversations. The world of New York Camarilla is deadly and duplicitous, and Julia will have to use all of her wits to avoid her final death… or an even worse fate! Fortunately, as a character she is much more interesting and better written than the protagonist of the first game. Her constant inner monologues give us a very interesting and deep insight into her troubled psyche, and make certain conclusions as to which dialogue option would be the best in given situation. Initially I was worried that her continous angst-ridden thoughts will get tiresome really fast, but the longer I played, the more I wanted to hear from Sowinski’s dark-filled mind.

Julia is certainly one of the strongest points of this game. From the beginning we get the sense that she’s alone in all of this. Yeah, the city’s Sheriff is on her side, and she has a ghoul-like girlfriend/best friend, but in the end she’s really on her own. The only other compaions are the shadows and sinister creatures that lurk within them. We’re never sure if they’re trying to help her or hasten her fall from grace. Personally I really liked this approach. In the previous game we had a coterie (of sorts), a powerful sponsor, and a generally lighter theme, but all of this only made me really not caring about my character. In “Shadows of New York” we get the feeling, right from the very beginning, that a lot more is at stake. This, coupled with generally darker visual and audio themes, creates a wonderful, morbid atmosphere, full of longing and uncertainty. You know – the quintessence of the classic World of Darkness.

Many characters from “Coteries…” make a return in this game. I was particularly happy to once again chat with Qadir al-Asmai, the Sheriff of New York, as well as with a couple of my old coterie members. Interacting with D’Angelo, the Nosferatu, is always a treat. “Shadows of New York” perfectly references the previous title from Draw Distance, and I think it’s mandatory to play it only after finishing the first game.

Oh, and a small but interesting thing to note – “Shadows…” is the first game that I’ve played, which actually acknowledges the COVID-19 pandemic, and does so in a respectable and mature way. I think that in the coming years we’ll be seeing more and more mentions of this virus in various fictional media, and wether we like it or not, it will become part of many of our favorite fictional universes.

I really have to praise “Shadows…” for its absolutely stunning and wonderful soundtrack. The overall style and tone of the music is dark, moody and ambient, and certain tracks elicit this wonderful feeling of longing and… belonging. Of seraching for one’s place in the world. The soundtrack perfectly encapsulates Julia’s troubled and turbulent thoughts. I wouldn’t mind buying the OST in a physical form, ideally in vinyl. Stand-alone digital copy would be nice as well.

It took me a bit longer to beat “Shadows of New York”, than the first title. For a expansion it’s seriosuly a great title, and one that I prefer more than the original game. The protagonist is amazing, and I was rooting for her through the entire game. The myriad NPCs, both new and old, are fascinating and unique, and the overall themes of “Shadows of New York” truly represent the essence of the World of Darkness. I suggest grabbing both of the games and just enjoy the dark, nihilistic, dangerous and sedcutive ride that they offer. They’re both excellent to the very last drop…

Until next time!

Xathrodox86

Xathrodox86 reviews: “Vampire: The Masquerade – Coteries of New York”

With my return to the Classic World of Darkness (Hunter: The Reckoning baby!), I’ve decided to get myself into a nice and proper mood by playing some CWoD-themed video games. “Coteries of New York” was the first one of these, and boy is it good!

Developed by the Draw Distance SA and released in April of 2020, “Coteries…” is a visual novel-style adventure game which shows us the fascinating and deadly world of Kindred – the vampires. The player takes the role of one of three different fledglings – newly created bloodsuckers, who are then thrusted into the complicated world of the New York Camarilla.

A world of intrigue and shadows, where nothing is as it seems. A world… of darkness!

Now it’s worth mentioning that this game is based on the new Vampire: The Masquerade lore, portrayed in the 5th edition of the tabletop RPG. For someone like me, who’s still deep in the “classic” era of the old World of Darkness, playing this title was like a tutorial for what has changed in the metaplot. While “Coteries of New York” don’t exactly give us all of the details, concerning the major changes, they’re still a fascinating insight into the modern nights and how the children of Caine manage themselves in a world of high quality cellphones, YouTube videos and a more dynamic and less predictable world, surrounding them.

The 3 clans from which we can choose our anti-hero, are Brujah, Ventrue and Toreador. Choosing each of them will give the players various dialogue and discipline options. I went with Brujah and thus had a lot of physical abilities to my disposal, but also some funky mind games with presence (or domination, I don’t remember exactly which one). Since the main hero’s sire left him/her right after the Embrace, other vampires won’t probably know to which clan our character actually belongs. Hell, we don’t know that as well! Sadly, there’s no Smiling Jack to tell us to which branch of the undead society we actually belong, but for me it only made the game more interesting.

The loneliness, the feel of not belonging to this bunch of manipulative monsters, and the constant oppresion, really made “Coteries of New York” a truly unique experience. Make no mistake – playing this game will put you at the very bottom of the food chain. There won’t be a late “Bloodlines”-style power boost, or the sudden discovery of the inner badassery. You are a fledgling, forced to participate in the Jyhda. You’ll need all your wits and guile to survive and live to see another night. Well, not live, but you get what I mean.

The game has a very interesting art style, as well as sound design. The graphics are beautiful, drawn in this slightly blurry, unfocused way with some intense lighting and filters in the background. The final effect is disorienting, like how I imagine a newly created vampire would feel, when thrust into the world of dark intrigue and lurking dangers. There’s no spoken dialogue here, all of the conversations are text-based. It actually worked for me much better, since I was able to imagine each of the myriad characters’ voices. All in all, the presentation is top notch.

I don’t want to spoil the plot too much, but let’s just say that in order to survive the modern nights, our newly created lick will have to take up offer from a much older (and more experienced) Cainite. Along the way we’ll meet a plethora of fascinating characters, amongst whom are the Prince, various members of the New York Primogen, as well as potential additions to our coterie. There are even quite a few mortals, and interactions with them were some of the most interesting in the entire game. Topics such as power, influence, the sense of self and the nature of the Kindred, are only some which we’ll encounter in the “Shadows of New York”. The whole game asks a lot of difficult questions, and forces us to make some hard decisions. Even though we have unlimited time when it comes to choosing dialogue options, it still makes choosing the right ones really tricky. Make no mistake – our every decision will lead to various, often dramatic consequences. This isn’t a easy game, and since there’s no traditional saving system, each of our choices is final, to an extent.

“Coteries of New York” took me 5 hours to finish which is a solid play time for a title like this. I’ve almost immediately installed “Shadows of New York”, a stand-alone expansion to the main game, and so far… I’m liking it even more than the original!

This is a very good, very engaging title from a studio that definitely knows its World of Darkness vibes and lore, and I can’t recommend “Vampire: The Masquerade – Coteries of New York” enough. If you have that nagging thirst (wink, wink) for some modern vampire action, give this game a go. You won’t be dissapointed, especially since it’s really cheap, and available on Steam! I will review “Shadows of New York” soon, but until then remember – wherever we go, it is the blood of Caine which makes our fate…

Until next time!

Xathrodox86

Role-playing Rants: My favorite WFRP moments: Part Four

I have lots more stories to tell. Today I shall bring up a tale of dread and cold terror from around 2010.

The “Lord of Winter” campaign, the only, semi-official Polish WFRP module ever written. The heroes were sent to cold, post-war Ostland to serve in an undersupplied military outpost. After survining both a pretentious party for nobleborn officers and their wives, as well as a massive goblin assault, our brave lads had to recover a kidnapped Ostland general from the clutches of the goblin warboss/shaman. The party consisted of Orzad Drokli, the most epic dwarf in history, an Ostermaker noble lord, an Imperial ex-admiral, and a Gold Wizard who had one of his hands turned into elastic gold! Groovy.

Not as cool as Ash’s chainsaw arm, but still…

Anyway, the PCs infiltrated the sinister goblin mountain, inside which the greenskin leader dueled with Waldemar, a fallen Light Wizard (who was the previous character of the Gold Wizard’s player), now a servant of Tzeentch. Their NPC allies, a Grey Wizard and a elven swordmaster, created quite a rucuks at the main entrance to draw at least some of the gobbos from interfering. My mind is sketchy about the details, but I think that at this point the general might’ve been stone cold dead…

The heroes decided to enter via a narrow tunnel, through which flew a small stream. So far their plan worked, the only thing left to do was finding the general and getting the hell out of there. Unfortunately it was at this precise moment that the daemon-influenced goblin shamana unleashed a mighty freezing spell, which froze the entire water in the mountain, almost instantly. The party had a chance to avoid a nasty death by quickly jumping up into the air, as the stream froze under them. The wizard and noble managed to do that. Orzad and the admiral failed. Orzad got his legs cut in half by the rapidly freezing water, while the admiral tripped and fell, face first into the stream, as it froze solid. Orzad’s last words were: “fuck”. What a bloody legend.

The noble and his wizard companion entered the main chamber in which hundreds of greenskins did battle with a couple beastmen herds, as Waldemar and the goblin dueled in the air. Our heroes found the general (I think, I’m not sure), but he was guarded by the Watchers of Tzeentch, powerful guardian daemons, skilled with magic AND blades (they were created by Jackdays from the excellent Kalevala Hammer website).

Oh, I forgot to mention that our two heroes entered the chamber while riding a huge rock, crashing down on multiple combatants, without even losing their Fate Points!

The ensuing combat was long, tough, and ultimately ended in Gold Wizard’s death, and the nobleman getting his spine severed. The final Watcher of Tzeentch got eviscerated by the elven swordmaster who fought his way to the main chamber, together with the Grey Mage. At this point Waldemar had defeated the goblin leader, and the Lord of Change that was influencing him, finally broke through, possessed the hapless warlock and materialised itself in the great cavern. The surviving good guys legged it outside, as the Greater Daemon’s birth sucked the entire mountain into the Realm of Chaos.

“Just as planned!”

Was that metal enough for you?

I don’t think that I ever did anything as epic, as that scene. Maybe the Zombie Dragon duel in Talabheim, in 2017, was close enough. I dunno.

Anyway, that was one of my fondest WFRP memories ever. In two weeks I’ll share another one with you.

Until next time!

Xathrodox86