The Warhammer Fantasy Role Play campaign I started for my new college pals continued to build up steam through the spring of 1991.
In addition to the core group of players — Mike (human pit fighter), Eugene (human apprentice wizard), “Father Flynn” (herbalist-turned-druid), and “Southie” Dave (halfling thief) — several other Sci-Fi Club members took part for a session or three before some scheduling or personal conflict got in the way. None of the players had any previous experience with the system, so I kept the adventures as simple as straightforward as I could. Most were basic dungeon crawl variants staged on re-purposed AD&D module maps and scaled to fit WFRP’s more lethal combat mechanics.
It worked well, and required little in the way of preparation. All I needed was a treasure list, a map with some basic notes, and pre-made roster of sample archetypes (mercenaries, warlocks, outlaws, et cetera) and the rest would sort itself out around the gaming table. The players seemed happy enough with the formula, but there were moments when I felt the urge to be slightly more ambitious with the scenario plotting — which is why I ended up snagging a copy of Warhammer Campaign.
The supplement was a hardbound collection including the first two installments of “The Enemy Within,” the flagship (and — for a long stretch — only) officially published WFRP campaign. While it got (and still gets) rave reviews in the gaming press, I never really figured out what the big deal was with it. It wasn’t awful by any stretch, but it also didn’t strike me as particularly exceptional. A lot of the narrative pieces were pretty convoluted in terms of the mechanics, and had the feel of an experimental novel rendered in RPG module form.
Mistaken Identity was the introductory adventure where a meet-and-greet coach ride leads to an ambush by mutants and the discovery of a corpse bearing an uncanny resemblance to one of the player characters and a bloodstained note referring to a large inheritance awaiting in a nearby city. It was an ingenious goad for a bunch of avaricious PCs with dubious morals. Unfortunately, the dead person was a cultist, the note was a ruse from a bounty hunter, and the adventuring party had unwittingly entangled themselves in a whole mess of trouble.
The second adventure, Shadows over Bogenhafen, was set against the backdrop of a town festival where a member of the merchant guild and his demonic familiar were secretly planning an arcane ritual with potentially apocalyptic consequences. It’s interesting and atmospheric as heck, and makes for some great bathroom reading, but was far too involved to spring on my novice players.
(I know that sounds like I’m selling them short and not allowing for the fits of player inspiration that occur around the table. I’m not. They were very clever folks to a person, yet had a tendency to turn even the smallest tasks into the stuff of cascading catastrophes. It was a big part of our enjoyment, but also why I kept things simple.)
I ended up using the contents of Warhammer Campaign the way I used most pre-packaged scenarios, as something to cherry-pick individual encounters and adventure seeds from. The introductory scenario was far more useful on this front because of its episodic structure and supplemental sections outlining various bits of the Warhammer world. At the very least, the modules helped me pin down the correct scope to keep in mind when crafting challenges for the group, which had been a problem for me since I first switched to WFRP from AD&D.
The run was still in full swing when the semester ended. UMass Boston was a commuter school, and the members of the group were all local folk, so we agreed to keep the campaign going through the summer break. We were working out the logistics of it during the last day of finals when a dark-haired, kinda punky girl handed me a note before exiting the club room.
We’d had a few halting conversations before, where I learned she lived a couple towns over from me and was a big fan of anime. She was a couple of years older than me, wasn’t shy about cussing, and was pretty intimidating. I only learned her name after she left an envelope full of old punk pins for me on the club bulletin board.
It took a while and a few hurdles before I acted on it, but I’ve kept the note in my wallet since that day.