Thoughts on the Enemy in Shadows Companion

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A review of sorts of the Companion volume to Enemy in Shadows, the first installment of the new edition of the Enemy Within campaign.



Background

The Enemy Within: Enemy in Shadows Companion, compiled by Graeme Davis with contributions from Dave Allen, Mike Brunton, Zak Dale-Clutterbuck, Phil Gallagher, Andy Law, Andy Leask, T. S. Luikart, Lewis Page and Ben Scerri, is, as the title suggests, the companion volume to the first part of of Cubicle 7’s new “Director’s Cut” reissue of the classic Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay campaign The Enemy Within.

For more of the background and where I’m coming from in reviewing the books, see my review of Enemy in Shadows and the further links there. This review will assume familiarity with the original campaign and with the linked introduction.

For a more in-depth review, see Gideon’s piece on this: More, More, More.

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All images from the Companion, unless otherwise stated.

General impressions

This is a nice book. I’m finding it quite a bit more useful than Enemy in Shadows itself, and probably would even if I hadn’t already been long past Bögenhafen in my own campaign run by the time it came out. In fact I’d say it should be very useful for any GM running a game set in the Empire, to the extent that some of the stuff in here should probably have been in the core rulebook. Actually, as I’ll get back to, the weakest sections of the book are those most closely tied to TEW itself.

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Ian Miller’s classic frontispiece

Visually, as usual with C7’s stuff, it’s a very good-looking PDF. The artwork, much as in Enemy in Shadows itself, is generally of very high quality, much better than nearly all 2E art and the weaker 1E art, but less evocative and expressive than the best 1E art. The cover art, in a nice touch, is a reinterpretation of Ian Miller’s classic frontispiece illustration for Shadows Over Bögenhafen, Judging from the covers we’ve seen so far, including the projected covers for the forthcoming Power Behind the Throne and its companion, this seems to be a pattern: the main adventure books’ cover art is new, favouring action scenes, while the Companion covers recreate or reinterpret classic illustrations or covers, which also tend to be more static but moody set pieces.


Contents

This book is, essentially, “extra material” for the first leg of the campaign, covering some stuff that was originally in the first The Enemy Within booklet (later reprinted together with Shadows Over Bögenhafen). The original 1E The Enemy Within, much more than the 1E core rulebook, defined the Empire as a setting and set the tone for WFRP. The 1E corebook had painted the Old World in broader strokes and presented a sweeping overview of the whole world setting. This edition comes from the other end of the scale; the 4E corebook only describes the Reikland, one of the dozen great provinces of the Empire, as a setting but on the other hand gives much more ground-level detail. I can’t help but feel it would have made a bit more sense to have the overview of the Empire in the core book and the more detailed Reikland information in the first campaign companion.

But let’s get on with it. The chapters of the book are:

Guest commentaries: One page each of Phil Gallagher’s and Graeme Davis’ recollections of the origins of the campaign. Nothing really new here for the grognards who have been keeping up all along, but a nice enough summary and introduction.

Easter eggs: Another ‘historical’ chapter, with Davis pointing out the inspiration behind various names and things in the adventure. Most or all of this has also appeared in various interviews and articles before, but nice to have it in one place.

The Empire: A 10-page broad overview of the Empire, mainly focused on its political structures rather than daily life. This covers much the same ground as the chapter on the Empire in the original The Enemy Within and indeed recycles a fair bit of its text. There’s some additional detail and clarification, which is generally useful. What struck me first upon reading was that the Empire described here looks very much like its ramshackle, ineffectual 1E incarnation, and indeed the list of provinces, while expanded, is clearly based on the 1E lineup rather than the version from 2E and later (which itself goes back to the 4E Warhammer Fantasy Battle Empire army book). So we have Sudenland as a province, Nordland rather than Middenland being subordinated to Middenheim, and so on. As has since been clarified by Andy Law, the idea was to reimagine the retcons and rewrites of the setting over the years as actual in-universe changes – so this is what the Empire looked like in 2512, on the eve of the Enemy Within campaign, and ten years later (when WFRP 2E was set) it will presumably look more like its very different 2E incarnation. (See my review on Enemy in Shadows for a bit more on this.) Again, I’m not wild about this, but this way at least we get a nice writeup on the 1E-style Empire which is probably the best I could hope for. The extrapolations and further detail looks sensible – for instance, every electoral province now has one or more attached junior provinces named, rather than just the four “city-states” in 1E. We also get a little more detail on the various Electors and their heirs and families. Presumably some of this will become important in the new Empire in Ruins, such as the Emperor’s disinheriting his son for mysterious reasons. And yeah, House Untermensch has become House Unterlic.

Oddly enough there’s no map showing the listed provinces. Andy Law eventually posted one on his blog, but it really should have been in the book.

The Empire’s roads and highways: What it says on the tin, plus a section on coaching houses and inns. A brief but fairly solid chapter.

Mounts and vehicles: WFRP 4E stats for various riding and draught animals and vehicles. Since I don’t use the actual WFRP 4E rules (or indeed any other WFRP edition) I haven’t looked more closely at this.

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Travel: This is mainly a rules chapter, although as usual providing flavour through the rules. The meatiest part of it is an optional – and basically system-neutral – subsystem for semi-abstractly handling travel, extrapolated from the downtime rules in the 4E corebook. Basically, you divide the journey into 2-6 “Stages” of arbitrary length (I’ll get back to that one) – a very long journey might be several “legs”, each split into “Stages”. For each Stage, you roll for weather; each character can perform one “Travel Endeavour” (analogous to downtime endeavours from the rulebook), which involves a skill roll leading to either a minor but noticeable perk or, if failed, getting fatigued); and the GM can optionally roll for an encounter.

The encounters are divided into three tables – Positive, Coincidental and Harmful encounters. The GM is suggested to choose the table based on how well the PCs generally did in their travel endeavours, and not put in more than one travel encounter per “stage”. It’s worth noting that even the Harmful encounters aren’t combat encounters – a sidebar reasonably points out that random combat encounters are tedious and rarely add much to an adventure beyond eating play time and forcing the GM to do improvised setup. Combat encounters should be planned and made a part of the adventure. I broadly agree with this approach for my own games, but as always, it’s a matter of preferred play style.

There follows some rules on driving, riding and mounted combat. I’ve only looked superficially at this, but the suggested movement rates look absurdly generous; an individual’s Movement score (4 for an average human, 3 for an ox, 7 for a riding horse or light warhorse) is also their miles-per-hour speed at walking pace, and a mount can walk for a whooping 12 hours before even risking fatigue (and then, after an hour’s rest, some 3-5 hours more). This would imply that a small group of horse-mounted characters travelling by road in the summer (with plenty of daylight hours) could expect to cover 112 miles in a day – about four times a reasonable long-distance travelling pace! This is plainly ridiculous. I haven’t crunched all the numbers in this chapter, so I don’t know if the others make more sense.

RE the abstract “Stages” thing: this might just be a quirk of mine, but I would much have preferred a Stage to nominally represent a certain time period of travel, say 2-4 days. Given the focus on gritty detail in this chapter, including rolls for catching cold in bad weather and even checks that might lead to more “Stages” being added, I’m a bit puzzled by the abstract and completely arbitrary “Stages” (much as by the similarly-abstract combat round in 4E, and other odd lapses into vagueness). By refusing to give even a nominal scale it’s hard to ground it in the setting. This wouldn’t be a problem in a system that’s much more generally free-floating, but it seems an odd match for WFRP. Of course, this is fairly easy to fix especially since there’s an example given, suggesting Altdorf-Middenheim would be reasonable to divide into 4 “Stages”.

As an aside: I might be overthinking things (not for the first time), but there’s a curious ambivalence both here and in some other 4E material between the general leaning toward gritty simulationist detail on the one hand and the intermittent but recurring lapses into vagueness on the other. This goes both for rules, such as refusing to set even a nominal time scale for rounds and travel, and for setting material. As for the latter at least, I suspect this is to some extent due to the need to avoid contradicting any official Warhammer canon – which might mean that things that remain vague in “official” Warhammer can’t be properly nailed down in WFRP, lest you end up contradicting stuff or, even more easily, draw attention to inconsistencies that you can’t resolve without going beyond your remit. This might be why we’ve never, to the best of my knowledge, had a proper comprehensive overview on such quite basic setting elements as how the noble hierarchy actually appears and works in the Empire (and other countries), and how the various military forces of the Empire are actually organized and connected (or disconnected) to each other.

Road wardens: Another brief-but-solid setting chapter on Road Wardens, the ‘mounted police’ of the Empire, and road toll houses. The setting background on the roadwardens looks quite different from the writeup in the 2E Shades of Empire book; in SoE, the roadwardens are part of a single Empire-wide (although decentralized) organization in principle responsible directly to the Emperor and going back some 8 centuries; in the new writeup the Imperial Road Wardens have only been around some 60 years, and most road wardens are in fact soldiers in local or regional armies (although it’s also stated, slightly confusingly, that the roadwardens are all “part of an Empire-wide service” and have jurisdiction on all roads and highways, even outside their home province). A bit over half of the 4-page chapter is given over to detail three sample NPCs with some adventure hooks.

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All roads lead to Bögenhafen: The parade of NPCs continues in the next chapter, after a brief and not-terribly-substantial note on tweaking the opening of the campaign. As with much of the commentary and advice on tweaking the adventure, it’s mostly concerned with changing things around to make things different for players already familiar with the original, rather than seriously rethinking the structure of the adventure and campaign.

With that out of the way (in one page), the other 20 pages of this chapter gives detailed descriptions of various NPCs the PCs might come across while traveling in the Empire, each more or less illustrating an archetype such as bounty hunters, nobles, outlaws, gamblers and so on. The characters are colourful and mostly interesting, and all come with a plot hook or two. Several of them also come with notes on how to fit them into Enemy in Shadows, either as additions or as substitutes for other NPCs. This is a very useful chapter; while I don’t really see the need to cram many of these new characters into Shadows, most of them are perfectly good NPCs to use at some other point.

Mutants in the Empire: An overview of the role of mutants in society. This is again brief but solid, and it’s commendably nuanced: it makes it clear that many, perhaps most, mutants are victims of circumstance and many of them turn to banditry or Chaos worship out of desperation and for lack of alternatives. There are also a few extended mutation tables, weighted for “gifts” of various Chaos gods.

eisc-p78-purple-handThe Purple Hand: a GM’s guide: A chapter on the cult that’s supposedly more or less the connecting thread of the campaign. Most of the concrete background information is from the 1E Middenheim book. While it provides some useful details, this chapter is disappointing, precisely because it remains faithful to the previous versions and doesn’t go beyond them. The sad fact is that the Purple Hand was never properly developed or thought through as a credible villainous organization, and it remains a strange hole of weakness at the centre of the campaign. 30-odd years and we still don’t know the answers to some of the most elementary questions, especially on their actual motivations. What do they actually want? Well, the writeup suggests that “Now, as other forces prepare to assault the Empire from without, the Purple Hand plots to collapse it from within”, but… why, exactly? What do they look forward to gaining by collapsing the Empire? Why does anyone join this conspiracy? What’s in it for them?

Of course, it doesn’t help that in the original the Purple Hand basically disappears after Death on the Reik. Yes, the main villain of Power Behind the Throne is supposedly its leader, but this seemed plainly tacked-on; the cult itself plays virtually no role in the adventure and there’s hardly any mention of its members apart from the villain’s personal henchmen. The underdeveloped Purple Hand is something I was hoping for the new version to improve on, and with this writeup it doesn’t look very likely.

The chapter also has a section on Chaos magic, which is probably more useful.

On the Road: The book ends with updated reprints of three short early WFRP adventures/encounters. The first, “On the Road” by Graeme Davis, is one of the first WFRP pieces published (originally in White Dwarf) and contains two simple but memorable encounters: a werecat travelling to bail out her imprisoned lover (also a werecat), and a ghost asking to be laid to rest. Both episodes are simple but evocative and charming, and with a bit of work can be expanded and tied into other plots. In the 1E collection The Restless Dead, Carl Sargent, with his usual combination of cleverness and occasionally tortured stretches, used them as the basis for the overarching plot of an entire mini-campaign.

The Affair of the Hidden Jewel (A Melodrama With a Thick Plot): Another ancient White Dwarf scenario by Lewis Page. This one is a light-hearted swashbuckling adventure with no supernatural elements, with every major NPC explicitly a stock character from old adventure stories. I haven’t run it but it looks like good fun, with a sort of “The Princess Bride as directed by Terry Gilliam” feel to it. On the other hand, as Gideon pointed out in his review, it’s perhaps an odd fit for an interlude in The Enemy Within campaign, considering several of its deliberately hackneyed plot points, such as the band of outlaws and the secret passage into a castle, also appear in Death on the Reik.

The Pandemonium Carneval: A reprint from the Hogshead Apocrypha 2: Chart of Darkness (2000) by Mike Brunton, detailing a travelling freak show with a few adventure ideas. As the material overlaps with the freak show in Shadows, Doctor Malthusius’ Zoocopeia, it could be used either as a substitute or an expansion of that. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this is seeing how different – and IMO, more nuanced and interesting – the Old World used to be; back in late 1E, a freak show whose attractions were mostly (captive and more or less tamed) beastmen would be legal and tolerated. A sidebar lampshades this and gives some suggestions for tweaks, but doesn’t really comment on the change in canon (which a previous sidebar on the werecats does, on the other hand).


Conclusion

I’ve been doing a lot of nitpicking, but this book is a very good resource. I’d recommend it for anyone running a game set in civilized parts of the Empire in the Old World; there’s plenty of useful stuff even if you aren’t going to run the Enemy Within campaign itself. The title is really a bit misleading – little of the material is specific to Enemy in Shadows and in general the material most closely tied to TEW, such as the writeup on the Purple Hand, is the weakest. I’m quite curious about what the upcoming Death on the Reik Companion will contain.


 

3 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Enemy in Shadows Companion

  1. Great review – thanks for taking the time to do this. Again, I’m a little bit disapointed that C7 hasn’t given us anything particularly “new” here. If this was a companion on “how to make Shadows fresh and new” then that would be one thing, but this feels a bit like “material from the 1e campaign pack and some old White Dwarf articles that have been reprited countless times before.”

    I completely agree with your take on the Purple Hand – it’s the one thing I’ve really spent time on now that I’m rerunning TEW for the first time in many, many moons. As you say, they just kind of vanish after DotR and that’s a shame.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for sharing that. It’s a great document, and I completely agree with your assessment; in 1e the Empire is a complete mess….so why bother collapsing it other than “cuz we iz evil”? I’ve always seen them as orchestrating the civil war so that they can swoop in and take control – not to just rule over the ruins.

    Liked by 1 person

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