Derrick Norton continues his account of the development of Empire in Flames, which started here.
Warning. Spoilers for Empire in Flames.
EMPIRE IN FLAMES: REVISED INTENTIONS
Having read the overview and brief synopsis, my attention would have turned to the long synopsis. The document comes across as more mature (and is much closer to EiF as published) but it still describes work in progress:
- “Again, GM notes on how to handle these later developments will be provided in good detail.”
In other words, the long synopsis summarises work and intentions as they stood at the time. It is hard to tell just how much of the manuscript was already written (as opposed to planned) but the long synopsis gives the impression there was still a lot more to do. In any event, campaign links to SRiK were not yet included as described in “final note 1”:
- “I need to see Kislev to script the ‘Introduction’ properly and there may be some other elements which I need to script depending on what happened in that adventure.”
It is possible these links were considered later but proved too difficult to establish given the plot of SRiK and the time or resource available to develop EiF. Whatever the reason, EiF only has a few token links to SRiK.
As well as illustrating how EiF developed over time, the long synopsis is notable for another reason: the actual document has about twenty handwritten annotations, mostly in the form of marginal comments but with a few longer endnotes. Most are mine and, interestingly, a couple of these have a ‘follow on’ comment in Phil’s handwriting so there must have been some to and fro. The fact that the long synopsis is annotated indicates it does refer to the manuscript as drafted.
My memory is vague but good practice suggests there would have been a commissioning brief for EiF, and there is some evidence for this in my first comment: “Phil – I hope we get credited for our plot!” Graeme Davis must also have been involved as my final comment is a postscript: “As Graeme says, we need to get a dragon in the plot somewhere – it doesn’t have to be a very big one but we should do our best!”
The long synopsis recognises that EiF is the end of a major campaign and promises the following:
- “Themes and secrets seeded earlier in the campaign adventures are brought to fruition, and major areas of unfinished business are resolved.”
My comment in the margin (presumably added after I had read the manuscript) states, “There’s not many of these!” meaning not many “themes and secrets” were even included never mind “brought to fruition”.
In the long synopsis, the Emperor is slain by an assassin and it is now his recalled-from-exile son who is revealed to be a mutant. This double whammy again triggers a civil war:
- “The Empire is now plunged into internal factionalism. As old enmities between local rulers erupt into open combat, and the opposition of the cults of Sigmar and Ulric explodes into fanaticism, denunciations, and warfare.”
These events are similar to those in EiF as published, but the published version also has the mutant Crown Prince kill Graf Boris for good measure (and, I presume, to pave the way for Heinrich to unite the cults of Sigmar and Ulric in due course). To remedy matters, the PCs are sent on a quest:
- “They are begged to seek out the most powerful and emotive artefact in the history of the Empire: the War Hammer of Sigmar…”
- “…[which] takes the PCs virtually to the world’s edge (as it were); though a land beset by the first stirrings of civil war to find a clan of Dwarfs who zealously protect the secret of the location of the Hammer.”
An endnote commented: “Obtaining [the] hammer to stop [the] other side getting it is a strong plot – perhaps PCs must ‘volunteer’ for this dangerous quest much as Frodo etc.” I seem to recall discussing ideas about an NPC party (working for the “other side” on its own quest for the hammer) whose path would at some point cross that of the PCs.
I also wrote “COMIC PLOT?!” with respect to the “clan of dwarfs” but I don’t believe this was criticism. Rather, that this would be a good opportunity to include some light relief, ie a fun interlude between the nameless horrors to date and the perilous fights to come. A related endnote continued: “…or dwarfs waiting for the PCs to turn up to fulfil prophecy – perhaps one dwarf who has been waiting thousands of years [a] bit like a Yoda figure – v. comic but v. powerful.” A bit like “Yodri the Dwarfish Loremaster” in EiF as published.
In due course, and after services are performed, the dwarfs will reveal the hammer’s location but there is a problem:
- “The Hammer itself seals a great evil – a Greater Daemon – in the claustrophobic underground temple in which it has been placed. There are perils (monsters, traps, and hazards of underground travel) to be faced, and a battle with the Daemon…”
In an endnote I suggested: “Perhaps stress evil rather than chaos – makes a change”. Phil’s reply was succinct: “Not if the hammer is being used – it’s anti-chaos.” As published, Sigmar used Ghal-maraz to seal a Chaos warpgate and, with it, Sheerargetru the Daemon. (So, one – nil to Phil then!)
The long synopsis envisages the PCs obtaining Ghal-maraz. The hammer, as well as being a legendary weapon, has a critical plot function:
- “…indicating in a blaze of blue light its proximity to a true heir of the line of Sigmar – and this is none other than Baron Heinrich Todbringer of Middenheim, adopted son of the (now dead) Graf Boris (the ancestral line is easily wangled).”
This development is somewhat clichéd and an entry under the “final notes” section recognises the risk:
- “Using Heinrich as the true heir of Sigmar is real soap-opera stuff but it works, because I think the ending of this adventure (if the PCs win) calls for a true resolution of the campaign… They want to feel they really did it at last.”
My comment was “agreed!” (noting this resolution is different to the “tensions subdued but not extinguished” ending in the earlier overview). However, the finale is still a colossal battle with the (unwisely titled) “Rivers of Blood” section beginning:
- “This is the grand, apocalyptic battle against Chaos. It will employ an abstract-narrative mass battle simulation system for WFRP players.”
This did not sound like role-playing to me and my comment used capitals for emphasis: “AS CLIMAX V. BORING!”
An endnote continued making this point: “The climax here appears to be narrative based, [the] GM telling PCs what happens. The PCs must finish in combat with someone or something, risking life, limb and fate points to secure victory for the Empire (or die trying)!” If I spotted the parallels between the original and revised endings for PBT I didn’t comment on them.
An endnote concluded that, “The original ending was far better” to which Phil replied “…but wasn’t this dependent on having loadsa [sic] toy soldiers?” Memory fails, but I’d like to think I was referring to some other ending we had discussed as I was not a fan of the mother-of-all battles.
Here is the complete document:
Empire in Flames “long synopsis”
It includes an endnote I found harder to interpret all these years later. I now believe “Note 1” refers to a perceived problem with having Sigmar (a deity) getting involved in the adventure even if “just” as an avatar.
In the note I argued that, “[The] Grand Theog[onist] could still be a Greater Daemon. Sigmar is a ‘new god’ and as such his powers of intervention could be limited…”. This phrasing implies that the idea was already under discussion. WFRP rules are that “In their own planes of existence Greater Demons are second in power only to the gods themselves” so we may have concluded Sigmar-the-avatar (if used) would not be able to solve all the PCs problems.
The long synopsis was an improvement on its predecessor but I still had problems with it (particularly the ending). There was only one document left to read: the manuscript.
(To be continued.)
The next post contains the final part of Derrick’s discussion of Empire in Flames.
Cubicle 7 has re-released Empire in Flames as a PDF, which can be bought here.
Title art by John Blanche. Internal art by Gary Chalk. Used without permission. No challenge intended to the rights holders.