Search This Blog

11/19/2017

Grimvember 2017 is here! It's time for an interview with Clint Lee Werner!

Here's something for all of the fans of ruthless bounty hunters, killers of witches and Grey Seers - an interview with a man, who writes and understand such character better than anyone, Clint Lee Werner himself.

I always loved the anti-hero trope. Not for me were the goody-two-shoes kind of characters, whose only problems revolve around their immaculate, shiny armor and magical swords of slaying goblins +2. I guess that's why I always liked Warhammer Fantasy so much (well, except for a short period of time, as some of you may know). This world is full of heroes who, in most other fantasy settings, could be even described as villains. Hell, even Gotrek and Felix are far from being a crystal clear duo of characters, what with their murder hobo kind of approach to many problems. Of course they are still the good guys and the readers know it. When it comes to Brunner the Bounty Hunter and Witch Finder Mathias Thulmann, however, things are not so simple.

Is this a face of a saint? I don't think so!
These two characters have been created by a man, who gets antiheroes, like no other. Clint Lee Werner is a talented writer with a flair for morally ambiguous characters, dark and gritty settings and a love for rats, that walk on two legs, eat green, magical stones and plan to take over the world. Mister Werner was kind enough to answer a couple of my questions and now you can read them. I hope that you'll this interview as enjoyable to read, as it was for me to conduct.

Xathrodox86: How did you came up with the ideas for Brunner and Mathias Thulmann?

Clint Lee Werner: The concept of Mathias Thulmann evolved from the historical figure of Matthew Hopkins. A film loosely based on Hopkins was made in 1968 titled 'Witchfinder General' with Vincent Price in the title role and it remains my favorite performance from my favorite actor. So I began to wonder what would happen if you had a similar character in a world where the witchcraft was very real, very dangerous, and actually was being practiced everywhere. Clearly from a cynical exploiter the character would have to be changed into an idealistic fighter, courage and faith rather than opportunism and greed as the key aspects of his motivation. In the end, Mathias Thulmann didn't have very much left from the source that inspired him beyond a few surface similarities. I'd say he is a bit more akin to Robert E. Howard's Solomon Kane, but without the rather impulsive heroics that would motivate Kane and obviously without the same degree of Puritanical zeal. Thulmann is a more cautious and calculating kind of hero, one who weighs the risks before he acts.

Brunner likewise has his basis in some of the films I grew up watching. My father is a huge enthusiast for the Old West and in particular has a penchant for Spaghetti Westerns, the western films produced in Italy and filmed in Spain during the 1960's and 1970's. A key protagonist of a good number of the Spaghetti Westerns were bounty hunters and this kind of character was instantly appealing to me – a pragmatic figure who could be either friend or foe depending on who is paying him. Probably the key influences on Brunner's character were Lee Van Cleef's Colonel Mortimer in 'For a Few Dollars More' and Klaus Kinski's utterly ruthless Loco from 'The Great Silence'. These are men who are after the reward money and will use any tool at their disposal to get the job done – albeit I can't see Brunner ever stooping as low as Loco or perhaps ever rising to the same sense of honor as Col. Mortimer.

Xathrodox86: Brunner is the epitome of an antihero. How hard was it for you to write this kind of character? Did you had any sympathy for his motives and actions?

Clint Lee Werner: Brunner is a character who actually wrote himself, so I guess in a way he was among the easiest characters who I have written! I am minded of something Robert E. Howard once said of Conan the Cimmerian, how when he was working on those stories it almost felt as though Conan was at his shoulder reciting the tale to him. There were several points when writing Brunner's adventures that it really did feel as though he was correcting me as I worked – invariably to change something I had him doing into an even more pragmatic and vicious deed. The character himself seemed to strip away what honor I, as the author, wanted to allow him. It was almost like he was telling me 'no, I'm done with all that.' To be fair, there are very rare instances in the stories where Brunner does exhibit a sense of fair play or shows respect to an enemy, but these are diversions from the norm for him.

I would say I do have quite a degree of sympathy for Brunner's motives, at least his ultimate motives. He is a man who has had everything taken from him and now lives solely to take revenge. Not a simple revenge either, but one that will exact the same toll from his enemy. He is determined to do more than simply kill, he will first take everything away. So far as Brunner's actions go, I think he goes far too down and dirty to be entirely sympathetic. Pragmatism rather than valor.

Xathrodox86: Did you had in mind a definitive ending for the famous bounty hunter? I'm not talking about his fate in the End Times. Was there any chance for a happy ending for Brunner, or at least for him getting justice for all the wrongs that he endured?

Clint Lee Werner: Given the chance I would have liked to return to Brunner's story. Certainly I did have intentions to pursue his vendetta further. I also wanted to return to the character of his grandson, who would have been groomed to become the next Baron von Drakenberg and instructed in the art of war by men of Brunner's choosing. Ultimately, the Viscount de Chegney would have been deposed, losing everything to the new Baron von Drakenberg and forced to flee for his life. A happy end for Brunner himself, I do not think would be possible. Indeed, I considered that a fitting finale for him would be pursuing de Chegney right into the Chaos Wastes itself for their final confrontation.

Xathrodox86: Given how many things he kills/defeats, one might consider Brunner to be one of the best fighters in the whole Warhammer Fantasy. Where on the "badassery scale" would you put that character? What is it that makes him such a dangerous opponent?

Clint Lee Werner: Brunner would be the first to concede that he is not the best fighter in the Old World. There are better marksmen and better swordsmen. While he is quite capable in both respects, his real strength is his lack of scruples. While another warrior might be so absolutely confident in his ability to win a fight, Brunner takes pains to rig a fight in his favor. He also studies a potential enemy and is always adding to his bag of tricks. For instance, he learns that salt is useful against vampires so when he encounters Sir Corbus and recognizes him for what he is, he makes use of salt as a way to disrupt the vampire's attack and provide himself with an advantage. That is the key to what makes Brunner so dangerous – his ability to find a weakness in an enemy and then exploit it.

Xathrodox86: I always wondered about Brunner's resources. It's been very clear that the man earns a lot of coin, during his adventures. Where does he keep all that money? Sure, it's obvious that he has a lot of wealth with him, but what about the majority of it? Is Brunner a fan of the Old World's banking system?

Clint Lee Werner: Brunner is collecting all of that money for one purpose: revenge. As such a lot of it is being spent raising his grandson, or more properly training his grandson to become a weapon to use against the Viscount de Chegney. He still has connections with some of the friends and allies of the Baron von Drakenberg and he taps into those old connections to help further this cause, as it were. He also employs his mentor, the retired bounty hunter and gunsmith Kristoph Leopold as a kind of strongbox for some of his blood money. Naturally Brunner is too wary to put all of his eggs in one basket and he likely has other hidey-holes for his gold as well.

Xathrodox86: If you could do a crossover with any of Warhammer Fantasy's characters, which one would you choose to ally himself with the legendary Bounty Hunter, and why?

Clint Lee Werner: Quite some time ago I did a proposal for a crossover titled 'Witchslayer' which would have seen Gotrek and Felix meeting up with Mathias Thulmann at the infamous Reiksfang prison. How the slayer and his recorder ended up in Reiksfang would have been Brunner's doing. So while not a full crossover, there would have been an extended cameo for Brunner.

Xathrodox86: Before reading your Witch Hunter trilogy, I always thought about the Templars of Sigmar as rather one-dimensional. You know, "burn the witch and all who saw here, just for good measure!". Mathias Thulmann brought a lot of humanity into that image, made these grim warriors feel human. How did you came up with an idea for this character? How did you managed to show us his human side, and not just the grim face of Sigmar's justice?

Clint Lee Werner: With Warhammer, the threat of Chaos is so pernicious and pervasive that it demands the most extreme measures to contain it. As I think is often pointed out, Chaos corrupts not only the flesh and mind, but the very soul as well. That being the case, it becomes an unpleasant duty to destroy anything that has been tainted by Chaos as a preventative against its future spread. I think of what Joseph Cotton tells his assassin in 'Soylent Green' when asked if the killing is a good thing: 'Not good... necessary.' The witch hunters, at least most of them, are principled men who do not relish their duties but rather see it as a horrible necessity. Certainly that is the view Thulmann takes. While completely devoted to Sigmar, he has not lost touch with his own humanity. He still has sympathy with the innocents he is trying to protect.

Xathrodox86: Streng, Thulmman's henchman, is a very interesting character, in that he's an amoral, disgusting creep... but only at a first glance. Personally I always thought that there was a kind of honor and dignity about this man, and that he deeply cared for his employer. Did you wrote Streng as a sort of contrast to Mathias? How hard was it for you, to create such a polarizing duo?

Clint Lee Werner: Streng did start off initially as a deliberate contrast to Thulmann, and in that portrayal he was a bit one-note. With the first novel, however, his character took on a greater depth. He is a man who has been poorly used by the world, the first man he ever killed was his own father when he decided he'd taken his last beating from the brute. Instead of breaking Streng, the hardships he has gone through have made him cruel and callous. He has no pretensions of either honor or dignity and lives very much in the moment and sating whatever desires hold sway over him at the time. For his part, I think Thulmann keeps Streng around simply because of this worldly mindset, using him as a counterbalance to his own piety and faith. Streng, though he would never admit it, has a certain kind of awe when it comes to Thulmann. He admires the faith and conviction that drives Thulmann explicitly because these are qualities Streng lacks.

Xathrodox86: The Witch Hunter's trilogy ends on a kind of a cliffhanger. Did you had plans for a continuation? Did Mathias Thulmann and his allies, took any significant part in the End Times?

Clint Lee Werner: I am not sure how Thulmann and his companions would have fared in the End Times. I did have plans for a continuation of their story, which would have seen them in direct conflict with the necromancer Carandini as he captures Das Buch die Unholden. With the cursed grimoire and the spectral influence of Nehb-ka-Menthu's hand, Carandini would seek to penetrate the defenses of Nagashizzar and try to steal the secrets of the (supposedly) dead Great Necromancer. It is difficult to say how it all would have played out. I had solid ideas for the initial book and the finale, but was all at sea for the middle novel. Part of the problem with Thulmann's stories is they were set during the Storm of Chaos and those events were increasingly pushed into the background as the End Times approached.

Xathrodox86: Grey Seer Thanquol is one of the most famous villains in the whole Warhammer Fantasy. What was it that made you want to expand on that character and continue writing about him? Did you consult your ideas with William King, the creator of Thanquol?

Clint Lee Werner: It would have been fantastic to consult William King while writing the Thanquol novels, but sadly the opportunity never arose. Fortunately the character he depicted in the Gotrek and Felix novels was so vivid and 'real' as it were that he seemed to write himself. Next to Brunner, Thanquol is the only character I've had who did that. Sometimes with problematic results as his paranoid megalomania would start devouring page upon page and I'd have to rein him in to get back to the narrative. When I was fortunate enough to meet with Mr. King at the first Black Library Weekender he said he had the same problem with Thanquol hijacking the stories.

The opportunity to write Grey Seer Thanquol was suggested to me by the editors at Black Library. Always a fan of the character – indeed he is my favorite in the whole Warhammer setting – it took very little time to leap at the chance. Giving Thanquol his own series of adventures was simply too delicious not to take.

Xathrodox86: Thanquol is a mutated, chaos ratman, but he does have a huge fanbase. Why do you think that is so? More importantly, how are you able to write a villainous character in a way, that garners sympathy for him and his actions?

Clint Lee Werner: To be honest, Thanquol is such a vicious, irredeemable character that by all rights he shouldn't have a fan base. But he does, and I am certainly among them. One trick that makes him more sympathetic is to highlight his flaws – in many ways he really is his own worst enemy. Thanquol's arrogance when he is on top almost ensures his defeat. His petty scheming to ensure that he is the only Skaven who will reap the rewards of his success always acts to sabotage his plans. Then, of course, you have his fawning subservience when he isn't on top, shameless grovelling to either weasel his way out of punishment or to wheedle some kind of concession from his superiors. Add in an unhealthy dollop of perpetual paranoia and you have the toxic mix that makes up Thanquol's squirmy brain. Of course his sublime cowardice and lack of any manner of self-awareness when it comes to hypocrisy only adds to his manifold flaws.

No, by all rights we should despise Thanquol. But somehow we don't and instead find ourselves rooting for the old rat.

Xathrodox86: How strong, magic-wise, is Thanquol, actually? Could he take on the strongest casters of the setting, like Teclis or Lord Mazdamundi, and have a chance of winning? He seems to be the most powerful magic user in all of the Under-Empire.

Clint Lee Werner: The Slann are on a power-scale all to themselves, so I doubt anybody, daemon or mortal, would come out better against Lord Mazdamundi or any of the older mage-priests. When it comes to mortals like Teclis, Thanquol's power is more difficult to gauge. Has he eaten some warpstone, and if so, how much? More vitally, has he lost himself in the 'rush' from the warpstone or is he maintaining his focus? Less about the actual power of Thanquol, you have to remember the limitations of his perspective. He cares only about himself, ultimately, so he is apt to be far more reckless and injudicious in the use of that power. Just about anybody who isn't a greenskin is at least going to try to keep from destroying their own guys along with the enemy. Thanquol is apt to deliberately inflict collateral damage over the most petty of causes – whether real or simply a product of his own paranoid imagination.

Xathrodox86: Given how cowardly and back-stabbing prone, the Skaven actually are, just how did Thanquol managed to evade death all these times? Was it all due to the Horned Rat's mercy, plain luck, or his considerable survival skills?

Clint Lee Werner: In regards to Thanquol's survival, I believe he is truly marked by the Horned Rat. As the End Times showed, he was chosen by the Horned One.

Xathrodox86: Many fans are associating your work mainly with Warhammer Fantasy. However you also did some work for the Warhammer 40,000 universe. How different was it for you to write about the grim darkness of the far future, when compared to the Old World?

Clint Lee Werner: Warhammer 40K is a very different setting from the Old World. The mixture of technology and superstition is quite unique in itself and then there has been such a copious amount of background material written over the years, between the various codexes, novels and articles in White Dwarf and Citadel Journal that the sheer scope of the setting is almost cyclopean. Where it came to Warhammer Fantasy, I was able to keep up with just about everything, but the simple vastness of Warhammer 40K meant there was always some new detail I would discover while I was writing.

Xathrodox86: What are working on right now? Any chance of seeing some of your old characters in the Age of Sigmar? Do you plan to write about the Iron Warriors some more?

Clint Lee Werner: There is always a chance I might do some more with the Iron Warriors. It really depends on whether the readers want to see more.

As far as Age of Sigmar, one of my old characters has made an appearance. It is a fairly obscure reference, but I've already employed the character twice. Keep a vigilant eye on "Overlords of the Iron Dragon".

Xathrodox86: Thank you for answering these questions. I'm a huge fan of Warhammer Fantasy, and your stories about Brunner, Thulmann and Thanquol are some of my favorites. They really did help me immerse myself more into this fascinating, fictional world Thank you for that.

Clint Lee Werner: Thank you for your interest and your enthusiasm. It is the readers who ultimately make writing these books a worthwhile endeavor, knowing that you have brought some enjoyment to somebody through your work.

So there you have it folks. I really enjoyed interviewing Mr. Werner. He is an incredibly kind and down-to-earth person and I'm really grateful to him, for finding time to answer a couple of my questions. You can find his website here and it is certainly worth checking. I'm sure that Mr. Werner will continue to supply us with many more, fascinating stories, for years to come.

Grimvember 2017 returns next week, with another scenario review. This time we'll take a trip to Altdorf itself. Stay tuned.

Until next time!

Xathrodox86

11/08/2017

Grimvember 2017 is here! It's hard to live in "A Dog Eat Dog World"

Grimvember is in full swing, as I review yet another, fantastic scenario - "A Dog Eat Dog World" by the talented Samuel Kisko.

I've originally ran this piece between the latter chapters of "The Thousand Thrones" campaign. My players were already pretty buffed up and so I thought that this scenario should not present too much of a problem for them. Oh how wrong I was...

That front cover kicks all sorts of ass!
This adventure, set just after the Storm of Chaos, starts somewhere on the road in Middenland, but in reality can be set anywhere within the Empire. The PC's encounter a jolly Halfling by the name of Don Don. He's having trouble with pulling his food cart and, of course, asks our heroes for help, offering them free meals in return. Soon the poor shorty gets kidnapped by a huge dog and nearly killed by it. The adventurers (hopefully) save him just in time and notice that the felled beast is in fact a Middenland Wolfhound, a famous breed of attack/hunting dogs. Soon they arrive at an eerie village of Dunkelbild, whose occupants have a serious problems with a rather large dogs...

That's the general gist of "A Dog Eat Dog World" but, of course, there is much, much more. Without too much spoilers, it's a typical "lift the ancient curse" type of adventure. Said curse is connected with the ever illusive Strigany folk, callous nobility and, of course, lycanthropy, which plays a huge part in this scenario.

The plethora of supporting characters is one of "A Dog Eats Dog World's" strongest points. From the jovial Don Don to the Dunkelbild's Reeve, one Stephen Shaw, and finally Klid D'Mur, a albino Witch Hunter with an elven name - Samuel Kisko truly made a fantastic job with his ensemble cast of characters. Just like with the case of "The Lord of Lost Heart", the NPC's are not only interestingly written and developed, but they also feel alive and important. Something like that is often too rare, when it comes to role-playing games.

The conspiracy behind the curse, as well as Stephen's quest for the PC's, are also the highlights of this scenario. You can almost feel the tension, building in Dunkebild. The dogs hold sway here and people, more often than not, prefer to stay indoors, for the village belongs to the beasts. The old Baron Vornamen Otterbaugh, who was one of the Hound Masters to Karl Franz himself, gave his beloved pooches special rights and privileges. In fact the Wolfhounds became more important than the people of Dunkelbild and that made them feral and unruly. Fortunately the Baron was summoned to Middenheim, to fight at the side of his Emperor and left the village in the care of Stephen Shaw, who decided that enough is enough. The dogs need to be put in check and who better to this, than a bunch of expendable and disposable fellows, known commonly in the Old World as "Adventurers"?

Awww, they're so adorable... and deadly
"A Dog Eat Dog World" makes huge use of 2nd edition WFRP's investigation mechanics, but there is also a lot of combat. Mind you, fellow gamemasters who are reading this, that the combat encounters in this scenario, can be really tricky and incredibly hard for the players. Samuel Kisko suggests that the party should be comprised of second-career PC's, but during our run, the party of four, tough-as-nails characters, was getting regularly mauled by the pooches. I honestly feel that the difficulty level should be tweaked by each GM, as to avoid a Total Party Kill kind of situation. Unless your players like that sort of thing, in which case go for it. The author himself seemed to understand the difficulty of this module and he even states himself, that the difficulty spike should always be adjusted to the PC's power and experience levels.

I thoroughly recommend "A Dog Eat Dog World". It's a fun little scenario, perfect as a break between the chapters of a larger campaign. It deals with the dangers of lycanthropy, which is always an interesting thing in my book and presents some really interesting characters, as well as plot hooks, to the players. Samuel Kisko did an outstanding job with this adventure and it would be a crying shame to not check it out.

You can get if from my WFRP Fan Material collection, which you can find here, or just send me an email. I'll be more than glad to supply you with that little gem of an adventure.

Until next time, when there'll be more Grimvember goodness. Stay tuned.

Xathrodox86

11/03/2017

Grimvember 2017 is here! Xathrodox86 reviews "The Thousand Thrones"!

Every gamemaster has a personal favorite, when it comes to pre-made campaigns and scenarios. Here's mine - the best WFRP campaign ever written. "The Thousand Thrones".

I've just finished "The Enemy Within" with my group. It is, without a doubt, one of the best campaigns out there, a true masterpiece of intrigue, action and drama. It pales, however, to the awesomeness that is "The Thousand Thrones". What can I say about it, other than that it is the best campaign that was ever written for the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.

In my humble opinion, of course
Since the Grimvember has just begun, I thought: "why not start this event with a bang". And so I've decided to make a huge review of this, my favorite of all the pre-made campaigns for WFRP. After all, Grimvember is only once a year, so it should be done in a right manner, am I right?

Be advised: this review will contain spoilers. This article is directed mainly to gamemasters, I won't deny that. However I do hope that anyone, who reads this piece, will be convinced to at least pick up "The Thousand Thrones" and give it a try. It's certainly worth it.

This campaign, being the last one released for the 2nd Edition WFRP, is 256 pages long. This alone should tell you about its scope and magnitude, not to mention that it was penned by 9(!) authors. Yeah, it's that massive. Among them are 2nd Edition's legend, Robert J. Schwalb and a Black Library author, Nathan Long. The ensemble cast of writers is definitely one of this campaign's biggest strengths, there's no doubt about that.
The cover is soft and the artwork presented on it, perfectly encapsulates the atmosphere of this advenutre. This is the darkest, dirtiest and most desperate side of Warhammer Fantasy, and "The Thousand Thrones" thrives on that kind of atmosphere and it let's the players know that from the very beginning. This bizzare style of a dark and haunting beauty, of a decaying grandeur. Of something that is passing away, but can still be considered impressive and beautiful.

The quality of the paper and internal artworks is top notch. The only real beef, that I had with this book, is its binding. One should be very careful when handling this tome, for it can go apart rather easily, without sufficient care. Long-term users of this module will probably need to bind it at some point.

The number of handouts inside is huge. There are 33 of them, and they're all of excellent quality. There are also additional maps, like that of an area around the destroyed city of Wolfenburg. Of course they're meant for photocopying, I think that even a high-grade camera phone would be able to work out really well in that case. Just snap a couple of photos and print 'em in your work place, while also making sure that your boss is not around.
Actually, now that I think about it, some of the "written" handouts can be hard to read sometimes. It is probably a good idea to supply your players with a transcript of sorts, so they won't have to strain their eyes too much.

Being the last module for WFRP 2nd Edition, "The Thousand Thrones" uses materials and rules from many of Black Industries previous sourcebooks. Among them are "Night's Dark Masters", "Realm of the Ice Queen", "Tome of Salvation" and "Tome of Corruption". Given the huge scale of campaign in question, the authors (all 9 of them!) advise the GM's to use other 2nd Edition campaigns, during their games, like "Barony of the Damned" and "Terror in Talabheim". While I do think that both of these modules are really good, I don't think that splicing them into "The Thousand Thrones" is a particularly good idea, as it could dilute the overall experience of the game. My advice is to run this module 100% kosher, with occasional short scenarios, between some chapters. I particularly endorse "The Lord of Lost Heart" and "A Dog Eat Dog World". You can find both of those scenarios in my WFRP collection, to which there's a link on the right side of this blog, or simply by clicking here.

There are even ideas and tips on party composition, based on general classes of Rangers, Warriors etc. I love that the authors are also giving GM's ideas about introducing replacement characters, and their starting experience points, however I can safely say that they've gravely underestimated the difficulty level of their own campaign. My advice is to not use the table, which states how many xp should a new hero start with. It's simply not enough, when "The Thousand Thrones" difficulty factor is taken into consideration, but more on that later.

The campaign itself begins in Marienburg, right after Archaon's apocalyptic Storm of Chaos, and takes players all across the Empire and into the blasted plains of Kislev. All in all, it is nothing short of epic. "The Thousand Thrones" is a classic "on the road" type of adventure and in that manner, it works exceptionally well. Players will travel all the way from Marienburg to Altdorf, then to the ruins of Wolfenburg and finally to the cold and unwelcome steppes of the Realm of the Ice Queen. Along the way they will discover the truth behind a miracle child, said to be Sigmar reborn and will get a chance to learn about the dark and terrible secret, behind the prophecy of the titular Thousand Thrones. I don't want to spoil anything more, so that's all when it comes to plot synopsis.

Almost every chapter of this campaign takes place in a completely new setting. From Marienburg to Altdorf, to the wilds of the Empire and the ruins of Wolfenburg, each part of this adventure is a self-contained scenario (in fact it can be played that way), that combines with other in a masterful way. Yes, "The Thousand Thrones" is a very on-the-rails type of campaign, but this is one of its main strengths and a reason, why the story that it presents is so, damn good. I know that a lot of people playing RPG's don't like to be led by their noses (a fact that even the authors of this adventure acknowledge), but for me a good scenario is all about the story and the way in which one can immerse himself in it completely. In that regard, "The Thousand Thrones" does it job in a splendid way, albeit the freedom of choice is illusionary at best, especially when the authors introduce the concept of mind control to make sure that the heroes will go, where are they are supposed to.

"The Thousand Thrones" can be considered an incredibly hard and deadly campaign. Most of the engagements are downright sadistic. The enemies often have a numerical superiority, not to mention they're more often than not armed with an array of nasty tricks. However this is not the "Thousand Thrones" main way of making players' lives miserable. No, the main danger in almost any scenario of this campaign, lies in sicknesses, mutations and other such hazards. I always liked that approach a lot. It dosen't matter if there's a party with over 20,000 xp between them and with combat stats maxed beyond any reason. Nurgle's Rot and good, old fashioned chaos stigmata are a sure way to test even the most elite and balls-to-the-wall warriors out there.

That said it is a good idea to warn your players about the dangers and a high difficulty level of "The Thousand Thrones", lest they'll become angry and frustrated, after losing a third character in a single chapter. I'm not kidding. When I was first running this game, one of my players lost 10 characters in total, some of them after a single hour of playing them. I wasn't boosting the difficulty up, nor did I cheated on the dice. It's just that "The Thousand Thrones" does not pull any punches. It delivers them with a smile on its face, wearing a spiked knuckleduster on each hand. Currently I'm running it for a second time and one of my first decisions as a GM was not only to allow my players to choose their characters, but also to give them a free Fate Point each. During our second session they've all nearly lost it and the entire party is already sick and feverish. Good times.

One of the strongest parts of "The Thousand Thrones" is its presentation. I especially love the way that the NPC's and almost all of the locations are described. There's a lot of information, regarding almost every, single NPC, and what's best is that most of it is for GM's eyes only. Little things like character quirks, customs, secrets and background stories are really making even the lowliest of cultists interesting and... human? Yeah, that's the word.
You see, this campaign gets one thing right - the bad guys. There are two major antagonists, and while I won't get into detail about them, all I can say is that both of them are extremely well written. One can be considered your basic evildoer, but only at a first glance. After all, true evil is such an alien and not understandable thing, that it defies reason and logic. That's why this particular villain works so well.

The other baddie is even better. Again, without too much spoiling of his character, I can only say that he's a perfect example why some people turn to the dark side, because of selfishness and ego of their keepers and peers. How many of Warhammer villains could've avoided such fate, if only other people around them, including their family and friends, would not make stupid, selfish mistakes? "The Thousand Thrones" does not provide an answer to this question, but it does make its reader ask it on more than one occasion. The gamemaster won't find his standard, moustache-twirling villains here. Almost all of the baddies became such, cause of desperation, bad circumstances, simple bad luck or some sick sense of loyalty to others. It's such a fresh and interesting take on the standard Warhammer bad guy trope, that I think it is one of "The Thousand Thrones" main selling points to me. And the best part? When our heroes are slaughtering all those evildoers, they of course think that they're doing what's right, not even once knowing the hard and cruel truth, behind their enemies' turn to darkness. Simply heartbreaking, let me tell you.

All in all, "The Thousand Thrones" is a masterpiece. Sure, there are a few flaws here and there. I've already talked about the durability of the book. Other than that, there are a couple of spelling mistakes and a persistent trend of changing "o's" to "0's", but other than that, I can't find anything TOO bad about it. Sure, like most ready-to-play campaigns, the final chapters are a bit of a hit-and-miss, with the last one being the weakest part of all and a rather frustrating one at that. But you know what, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter, because this campaign is, overall, a masterpiece. This is what Warhammer Fantasy really is for me: a dark, gritty but ultimately heroic setting, where even the ordinary people can become heroes and save the world, if more often than not, paying a very high price for their courage and the will to do what is right.
Do yourselves a favor, find a good, tight crew and enjoy this masterpiece of role-playing together. It tastes best with a group of like-minded friends or colleagues, as it's simply too, damn good to be wasted on playing with a bunch of shitty "randoms". I'm a very lucky GM to run it a second time (after playing it once myself, many years ago) with a fantastic crew, with a possibility of a third run, in the near future, this one done in English.
Like I've said at the beginning of this article - as someone who just finished "The Enemy Within", I can safely and surely state, that "The Thousand Thrones" is a much, much better campaign and a fantastic title, with which to end the venerable Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd Edition game series.

What a ride it has been!
Sigmar Vult and until next time!

Xathrodox86

10/19/2017

"Warhammer: Vermintide 2" gameplay trailer is here! The hype is real!

Fatshark just dropped the brand new "Vermintide 2" trailer and it looks insanely good! Join me for a quick rundown and a wishlist from yours truly.


Now it's no big surprise that I love "Warhammer: Vermintide". I have more than 100 hours clocked in this game, bought every, single DLC and generally think that this is one of the better co-op titles, which arrived lately to PC's and consoles. Will its sequel be just as good, or even better?

First of all, the trailer showcases a completely new enemy in the sequel - the Northmen! Yes, Chaos comes to "Vermintide" in the form of Marauders and Chaos Warriors, dedicated to Nurgle! There will also be a Chaos Spawn mini-boss, akin to the Rat Ogres of Clan Fester. They will supposedly be able to grab the heroes, and throw them across the map. Awesome!

Chaos shall not be denied
Fans of the Skaven need not fret, since our murderous ratmen will also get new reinforcements. Stormfiends will bolster up the forces of the Under-Empire, and their array of terrible, death-dealing weapons will no doubt bring grief and tears to many a party of heroes. I'm personally still hoping for the Plague Monks to finally make their way into the game, as well as some Skryre snipers, armed with Warplock Jezzails. A man can dream, but Fatshark proved more than once, that they're able to deliver a truly fantastic content to their fans.

There will be also changes to our heroes. Sienna, Kruber, Saltzpyre, Karelian and Bardin are still fighting the good fight against the encroaching forces of the End Times, and... seems like they've decided not to let anyone else into their little club of misfits. Unfortunately that means no Warrior Priests, Shadow Warriors or Flagellants, at least for now. Fortunately Fatshark gave us a sort of bypass, for each of our heroes will be able to choose 3 unique careers. For example Goreksson will be playable either as a Ranger (his default career), Ironbreaker or a Slayer. Markus will get a chance to become a Knight... which is strange, to say the least. It was explicitly stated in the first "Vermintide", that our designated fighter is not a huge fan of nobility. Oh well, bigger variety is always welcome, so I don't mind.


Bardin-Slayer is about to open a can of whoopass on these marauders
All in all, the new careers will offer us, players, a much bigger variety, especially with the brand new Talent Tree and Heroic Deeds system. Now we're talking! Gaining both the active and passive skills, our heroes will be much more deadly in combat, and the game itself will undoubtedly feel like an action RPG, than just a "Left 4 Dead" Warhammer clone. I'm really excited for this innovation, for it'll surely bring more variety and complexity to the, otherwise pretty standard, FPP game. Good job Fatshark, it's nice to know that you guys listen to your fans.

Oh yeah, the devs most definitely did listen, for not only will "Vermintide 2" have better loot system, it will also get a mod support. Bam! Now that's what I'm talking about baby! Finally people will get the opportunity to create new skins, sound packs and models for the game. I was always a huge advocate of modding, growing up on games like Half-Life and Unreal. For me a game that allows mods is worth 10,000 times more, than a triple A title with no modding support. Again - kudos to Fatshark for working on their previous shortcomings and mistakes. You rock!

Another interesting thing is the setting of "Vermintide 2". It's only a guess, but I think that our fearless party will travel (undoubtedly with Olesya Pimenova) further to the north, where the End Times are finally in full swing. I think that the sequel will also have much, much darker thone, than the first "Vermintide", something that's always welcome in my book.

All in all, "Warhammer: Vermintide 2" looks like it's going to bring a lot of fun to our LCD monitors and TV sets. Its makers surely took into account all the criticism and wishes of their players, and decided to work upon fixing them, as well as to deliver some awesome, brand new content. Good for them and good for us to be able to play this, fantastic looking sequel (seriously, check out the graphics on this ALPHA footage). I can't wait for the premiere of "Vermintide 2", a game that will probably force me to finally upgrade my gaming rig. You know what tough? For a title like that I won't hesitate to do just that. The game itself will be available in the early 2018. You can also sign up for the beta, which I already did and advice all fans of Warhammer Fantasy to do the same.

It's going to be one hell of a ride!
There is also a brand new DLC, coming for "Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide". Its title is "Death on the Reik", which is obviously a reference to the legendary "The Enemy Within" campaign, which, together with my RPG group, we've managed to finish last week. Great game for sure, and a true milestone when it comes to role-playing scenarios. I will most definitely review the "Death on the Reik", when it'll be available on Steam.

As for this blog, there are more good things coming soon. Grimvember is upon us, and I have a mega-review in the works, about one of my favorite Warhammer Fantasy camapigns, ever made. There is also a brand new interview in the works, but for now I can't say anything more. Let's just say that one of the best of Black Library's authors, has agreed to answer a couple of questions about two, very distinctive characters, whom he had created.

In general, this blog will generally become much, much more focused on Warhammer Fantasy and role-playing in general. My dissapointment with Warhammer 40,000 and the direction in which it is currently taken by GW, means that I won't write much about it, if at all. However good things are coming, so stay tuned and... until next time!

Xathrodox86

10/11/2017

Xathrodox86 reviews: "Iron Company" by Chris Wraight

"The Empire Army" series is quickly becoming one of my favourite set of books from the Black Library, and "Iron Company" by Chris Wraight is a perfect reason why it is so.

Chris Wraight is a terrific writer, in my humble opinion. Although I mostly know him from the 40K and "Horus Heresy" series, he also did quite a lot of stuff for the venerable Warhammer Fantasy. Tales about Kurt Helborg and Ludwig Schwarzhelm, the arcane "Masters of Magic", and epic tales of Luthor Huss, are just some of his contributions to the Old World. Among them is the "Iron Company", book two in the "Empire Army" series, and one that I can't recommend enough, as it is that good.

"Three things make The Empire great - faith, steel and gunpowder!" - Magnus the Pious
Magnus Ironblood is an ex-engineer, who now finds solace at the bottom of a bottle. Living in the shadow of his legendary father, who was one of the most respected engineers in the history of the Empire, Magnus now wastes the last of his coins on cheap drink, while trying to feel as miserable as possible. From the very beginning I've felt an intense sympathy for this character. He's a middle-aged drunk, who's a weak shadow of his former self. I don't know about you, but the "invincible hero" type really bores me to death, as of late. For Wraight to essentially make his main hero an alcoholic, was a bold and risky move. However Chris managed to write this character splendidly and not only is he believable, but his condition also plays a major role throughout the whole book. It is also the first time, that I saw a person with such a dependency as a main hero of a story, set in the Warhammer universe. Sure, Gotrek and Felix used to drink a lot, but the reader never felt that they are actually balancing on the edge of addiction. Magnus Ironblood is an addict, and that fact truly brings a lot to the story.

Magnus gets hired by the Hochland army to help them crack open a fortress, which is used by rebels, who essentially want to take control of the whole province and already defeated one army, sent against them. He gets a high position in the expeditionary force, despite his harmful habit being widely known, recruits and old friend of his, and they both join the army of Count Ludenhof. Hochland is masterfully presented as a dank, miserable, forested province, which is inhospitable to the extreme and can be immensely dangerous to the unwary. Chris Wraight presents it as this almost primal, forested region, which can swallow whole armies, if they're not careful. Truly a great insight into this part of the Empire, which I always felt, was a little underplayed.

Interesting part about the engineers in the Empire, is that almost everyone distrust them and, in case of the clergy, even downright hate them. To the traditional, hidebound folk of the lands of Sigmar, the engineer are no better than the magicians of the Colleges. The author includes short snippets of lore and monologues at the beginning of each chapter, some of which clearly show just how mistrusted the learned men of the Imperial Colleges of science, really are. Truth be told,. before reading the "Iron Company", I've never looked at it in such a way. Kudos to the author, for showing the relations between common men and the learned men, in such a interesting way.

Aside from Magnus we have a pretty big cast of supporting characters, both for the Hochland army and the rebels. All of them are excellently written and colorful, with their own backstories and motivations, which is something rare in a book like this. Chris Wraight makes sure to differentiate each of his heroes, and so the reader never feels that two of them are almost identical. There's your cocky Tilean, grumbling dwarf, zealous Warrior Priest, young and inexperienced (but good-hearted) newbie and a no-nonsense general. The bad guys suffer a bit in this department, as two of them are rather comically evil, especially the main antagonist of the book. Without any spoilers, even his name sounds so evil and devilish, that it is obvious, that he must be the bad guy of the story. Still, he is an interesting character, and one that has a connection to the main hero, so I can only congratulate the author for making such obviously wicked bastard, interesting enough for me to care about, in a way at least. In the end however, I think that the loyalists are much better written, than the antagonists.

Since this is a military fiction, we have our fair share of battles and they are presented in a great, engaging manner. Wraight masterfully presents the reality of a prolonged siege, ambushes and even assaulting a heavily fortified citadel from beneath. The cannons and other machines of war, play a huge role in "Iron Company", and the reader really has a sense of just how much a single cannon is able to change the tide of battle. Not to mention other, more exotic weapons, of which there are lots, but again - no spoilers!

My one beef with the combat sections of this book, was actually Magnus himself. He's supposed to be a middle-aged drunk, who's not wearing any armor and whose hands probably shake so badly, that he wouldn't be able to load a pistol by himself, at least not easily. Meanwhile Herr Ironblood is a force to be reckoned with, when in combat, even against a substantial number of well trained, well equipped and determined opponents. I'm not saying that he should be a glasses-wearing nerd, who constantly mumbles about trajectories and points of impact, but at times I had to check twice, if I was following the right character. Dude is downright nasty with a blade, and later, with a pistol. I guess all that booze unlocked his inner warrior, or something.

"Iron Company" is a pretty long book, but the reader never feels like it is overstaying its welcome. The action is paced excellently, the dialogue is engaging, the characters feel alive and realistic, and all I can say is: read it. Seriously, grab this book and give it a go. It presents a fairly unknown part of the Emperor's armies, and how "normal" folk perceive the men of science and enlightenment. "Iron Company" is definitely worth a read, and not just one.

Pros:

- Great main character
- Most of the heroes and villains are realistic and interesting to follow
- Battle scenes and action is top notch
- Engineers finally received some love!
- Excellent pacing and length, make this tale a joy to read

Cons:

- Some of the villains are trying too hard to be the bad guys
- Magnus is way too good with a sword for someone who's essentially a middle-aged drunk

Another one of the "Empire Army" books done, now we can go back to the less thrilling stuff - like why Warhammer 40,000 turned to shit, lore-wise at least. But that is a tale for another post, or maybe two.

U Wot M8?
Until next time!

Xathrodox86