Warning. This review contains spoilers for Rough Nights & Hard Days.
I concluded my review of WFRP4 by emphasising the importance of its being supported with good adventures. The first WFRP4 adventure has now arrived, so it is time to put that view to the test. Is Rough Nights & Hard Days a diamond in the rough, or is it a bit rough around the edges?
First, some history is in order. In 1987 Graeme Davis wrote a short WFRP1 scenario for White Dwarf that was set in an inn. He had several ideas for the plot, but unable to choose between them, decided to use all of them at once.
Such an approach had never been tried before in role-playing games, and Davis was uncertain whether it would work. But it did, and ‘A Rough Night at the Three Feathers’ became an instant classic.
The success of ‘A Rough Night’ led to a number of reprints. It also encouraged Davis to try the same style of adventure again, first in ‘Nastassia’s Wedding’ for WFRP1, then in the masked ball section of The Edge of Night for WFRP3.
Rough Nights & Hard Days takes the three adventures above, and combines them with two further adventures in the same style to create a short campaign.
That was then … this is now
Rough Nights & Hard Days comprises 95 pages, 49 of which are the reprinted adventures, 32 the new adventures and 10 a pair of appendices covering gnome PCs and pub games. It uses the same graphical style as the WFRP4 rulebook, and looks every bit as good (though there are a handful of minor typographical errors).
A ROUGH NIGHT AT THE THREE FEATHERS
The first adventure is an almost verbatim reprint of the one that appeared in WD94. The unnamed halfling of the original has a slightly expanded role (which she reprises in ‘Lord of Ubersreik’), and three brief ideas for reusing the inn are provided, but otherwise the adventure narrative is essentially unchanged. This is no bad thing. The original was a classic for good reason, and there is no need to change such a successful formula.
The new edition does, of course, include WFRP4 statistics. There are also fuller descriptions of the inn and NPCs, but in my view they serve only to highlight their redundancy; the adventure narrative tells the GM all he or she needs to know.
The adventure combines seven different storylines, which run concurrently in a single location on a single night. In terms of classical dramatic analysis, it preserves the unities of time and place, but violates the unity of action. It’s an immensely effective structure. Breaking the unity of action not only ensures that the narrative is packed with incident, but it also allows the different storylines to interact, often in unpredictable ways. In contrast, the unities of time and place bring the action into tight focus.
The seven plots mainly revolve around the visit to an inn of the Gravin Maria-Ulrike von Liebwitz of Ambosstein: the assassination of her judicial champion by the noble house of von Dammenblatz (ho, ho); the blackmail of her lawyer by a Chaos cult; her servant’s discovery of an illicit affair; and the cuckolded party’s attempt to get revenge. There are also plots concerning an attempt to smuggle a wanted man in a coffin; the bounty hunter on his tail; and a gnome pickpocket.
While the juggling of so many narratives might seem a challenging prospect for the GM, in my experience it is not. The adventure presents short summaries of each plot and then a precise chronology of events with cross references to the plot summaries. This makes it fairly straightforward for the GM to understand the action from both perspectives and run the scenario without problems.
A (HARD) DAY AT THE TRIALS
The second adventure, which is inconsistently referred to as ‘A Hard Day at the Trials’ and just ‘A Day at the Trials’, continues the narrative from ‘A Rough Night’. Following the assassination of the Gravin’s judicial champion, one of the PCs has taken over his role and has to defend the Gravin in battle at the court house in Kemperbad.
The structure of ‘A Hard Day’ replicates that of ‘A Rough Night’, with seven plots taking place at the court house in one day. Most of these are continuations of those in ‘A Rough Night’. In fact, they are almost replicas: von Dammenblatz agents are again trying to hobble the Gravin’s champion; her lawyer is still being harassed by the Chaos cult; the bounty hunter is after her reward; the gnome thief is back picking pockets. It is natural that there should be some development of these storylines, but the similarity creates a sense of déjà vu, especially as the adventure should follow soon after the events at the Three Feathers.
The feeling of familiarity is not greatly lessened by the new plots: a prison break out, whose only role is to create a (literal) big bang; a witch hunter encountering the ghost of an innocent victim; and the tiredest of WFRP tropes, demon-summoning cultists.
There is also less interaction among the plots and more repetition of events. Some elements are left a little sketchy. For example, the text does not clearly describe the impact on subsequent events of the Gravin’s lawyer dying in the first assassination attempt. In fairness, this would not be hard for the GM to fix, but the omission points to a little less polish than I would expect from a commercial product.
There is a nice conceit where interruptions repeatedly stop the judicial combat just after it starts, but overall this is in my view the weakest of the five adventures.
I personally would prefer to change things more for the second outing. Repeating both the structure and the plots is too much. Though it means departing from the formula, I would impose greater unity of action and try to make more of fewer plots. I would focus on the von Dammenblatz and break-out plots, expanding them and all but eliminating the rest. For example, the attacks on the Gravin’s lawyer would be removed or attributed to von Dammenblatz agents; the prison break would be the first interruption of the combat and subsequent interruptions would be the result of escapees’ actions, such as an escaped victim seeking vengeance on the witch hunter or a magistrate.
Another aspect I find a little disappointing is the handling of the finale. Should the PCs fail to defend the Gravin in combat, there is a deus ex machina that ensures the Gravin escapes on a technicality and everyone lives happily ever after. This ensures the campaign is not derailed, but at the expense of massively reducing the stakes. My preference would be to have the Gravin dragged away in chains, howling in fury, first dismissing the PCs for their incompetence, then suggesting they were in league the von Dammenblatzes. The PCs would have to leave town before they face the consequences, and only discover the Gravin’s ingenious legal escape later when they bump into her at the opera, and have an (awkward) chance to redeem themselves.
A NIGHT AT THE OPERA
The third adventure concerns a night at the opera in Nuln to celebrate the Gravin’s (inevitable) judicial victory.
We have seven more plots, and again some familiar faces: House von Dammenblatz is back, seeking revenge; the Chaos cult is still pursuing the Gravin’s lawyer; the witch hunter is on the Gravin’s tail; and the Gnome thief returns, but with bigger things on his mind. The campaign does not precisely repeat itself, but it certainly does rhyme.
Fortunately, the plots also introduce several new elements. Those with a sense of nostalgia will particularly appreciate two: a Nurgle cult and the Schatzenheimer, Valantina and Hydermans gangs are pursuing Albrecht Oldenhaller; and a playwright is seeking vengeance on none other than Detlef Sierck. Further spice is added by some gunnery student pranks and rivalry between the noble houses of Toppenheimer and von Liebwitz (which seems to have lost an “e” between editons).
This is a better scenario than ‘A Hard Day’. Although some of the plot elements recur, they do so in a more interesting manner (which makes the threads in ‘A Hard Day’ seem even staler in comparison). Also more time is likely to have elapsed since the visit to the Three Feathers, which makes repetition more tolerable.
I would probably tweak some parts. The gunnery student pranks are a little over the top for my tastes, and the gnome thief does not add very much. Depending on the circumstances, I might also modify the Oldenhaller plot. It mostly leaves the PCs as spectators, and and is of less interest if they have not played ‘The Oldenhaller Contract’. I would either give the players some agency in dealing with the gang assassins, or omit them altogether and just run with the Nurgle cult. This could then lead nicely into ‘The Oldenhaller Contract’.
The scenario also includes a good sprinkling of follow-up ideas, and it is easy to see how this adventure could form the starting point for a Nuln campaign in its own right.
The fourth adventure is the second reprint: ‘Nastassia’s Wedding’. This, however, is not an exact replica of the original. Some aspects which are a little sketchy in the original have been expanded in the reprint. There are some good notes on handling the aftermath of the adventure (which was almost entirely ignored in the first version). The castle gets a much-needed redesign and a proper map. Some of the events are fleshed out a little more. They are all good additions, though they do not quite make the adventure complete. For example, the scenario adds a rooftop chase, but does not provide a map or description; the GM is expected to improvise.
There are also minor changes. The recurring gnome thief has been squeezed in. The Arabian ka spirit in WFRP1 has become a Nehekharan wraith in WFRP4. This is presumably because of changes to the Warhammer background, but it seems to me slightly less colourful. (As an aside, the WFRP1 spirit is based on an Egyptian ba spirit, not ka. Given Graeme Davis’ extensive mythological knowledge, I am confident he was aware of this. I suspect he felt ba was not a suitably menacing name for an undead spirit.)
The adventure concerns events at an aristocratic wedding at Castle Grauenberg. There are (surprise!) seven different plots: the bride plans to elope with her secret lover; the bride’s father intends to give the groom a valuable sword, unaware that it is cursed; the father of the bride has a secret son locked away in the castle; a gangster is pursuing unpaid gambling debts; three different groups are seeking to steal a famous pink diamond with a flaw in the shape of a cat (the “Rose Tiger”, of course); a cult of Slaanesh summons a horde of demons (sigh); and von Dammenblatz is back again.
The plots are varied and play off each other nicely. They also contain exotica like taggees from Ind. It is a very good scenario. My only complaint would be that the Rose Tiger plot is surely a missed opportunity to bring back a certain Bretonnian gnome detective….
Eet eez I, Alphonse ‘Ercules de Gascoigne!
LORD OF UBERSREIK
The final adventure is another reprint. I have never read the original, so cannot make a detailed comparison. It takes the adventurers to Ubersreik and a masquerade ball where various noble families are competing for position. In addition to backstabbing aristocrats the plots this time include: skaven attempts to poison the guests; another illicit affair; a lecherous drunk; a mischievous wizard; the return of the witch hunter; and von Dammenblatz’s final revenge.
Although it shares the same presentation as the earlier scenarios, in this instance it seems to match the underlying structure of the adventure less well. The action mainly revolves around a single multifaceted plot concerning the rival noble families. This has been squeezed into two plot threads in the summary, but in reality there are more elements, which get glossed over. For example, the von Saponatheim’s secret heir returns after his escape in ‘Nastassia’s Wedding’, but this is not mentioned in the summary.
The machinations and antics of the noble houses make for some potentially great roleplaying, but running them poses some challenges. First, there are a large number of nobles involved, who are mostly referred to by their first names (some of which are shared). It makes it hard to track who belongs to which family.
Second, I expect the scenario works best if there are strong allegiances and hostilities between the PCs and some of the noble families. The presence of the von Saponatheims, Pfiefrauchers and von Leibwitzes of Ambosstein partly fulfils this need, but it is not in my opinion enough. It might be useful for the GM to add earlier episodes to develop relationships with other noble houses.
Third, the scenario frequently refers to noble houses gaining or losing influence or status. I suspect the original WFRP3 version had some sort of tracker for this, and I feel the reprint would benefit from something similar.
This brings me to the final problem. It is made clear that none of the noble houses will be able to secure what they want and that the whole ball is futile. It seems an anticlimactic resolution. It would perhaps be better to allow a victor to emerge, with potentially significant repercussions for the PCs and the campaign.
Despite the challenges, it is a good scenario. I would be inclined to make it the culmination of several run-ins with noble families, and perhaps give it a grander setting, such as one of Countess Emmanuelle von Liebwitz’s famous parties, but I expect it also works well as it is written.
THERE’S NO RACE LIKE GNOMES
If the return of The Enemy Within, fimir, the Three Feathers, Albrecht Oldenhaller and Drachenfels left you with any doubts as to WFRP4‘s nostalgic bent, they should be dispelled by the biggest comeback of them all: gnomes.
Gnomes were offered as a PC race for WFRP1 in a article in WD86 (February 1987), and appeared briefly in a few adventures. But their last appearance (to my knowledge) was in Apocrypha Now (1995).
Their reappearance in Rough Nights & Hard Days is fleeting. There are only five pages dedicated to them, but they cover gnome character generation, a little on gnome culture and three gnome gods. The material mostly follows that of WFRP1, with the return of their settlement at Glimdwarrow and the god Ringil, but there are a few changes. There is greater cultural distance between gnomes and dwarfs. For example, gnomes are no longer associated with smiths but with pedlars. There are two new gods (Evawn, god of travel, trade and thievery, and Mabyn, goddess of shadows, revenge and magic). Gnomes are portrayed as rare and secretive, which neatly explains their infrequent appearances and long absence from the background.
I have to confess that nonhuman races do not generally provoke a great deal of enthusiasm from me. They can too easily fall back on Tolkienesque clichés. But WFRP4‘s gnomes have some personality. Moreover, it is encouraging to see how much latitude GW seems to be giving to Cubicle 7. It may bode well for the future.
Besides, think of the opportunities for puns….
CITIUS, ALTIUS, FORTIUS
Descriptions are given for fifteen pub games, including both background information and WFRP4 rules to allow characters to play them. Most are traditional games like darts, skittles, dominoes, cards and bowls, but given Old World twists. Snotball also makes an appearance, though it seems the Old World animal rights lobby has removed the snotlings and it is now Middenball. (There are, however, hints of illegal games still using live snotlings.)
The material obviously grew out of the arm-wrestling rules in the original ‘Rough Night’, but is not just filler. PCs spend enough time in inns that it is useful to have this sort of thing to fall back on.
I really like Rough Nights & Hard Days. It has some excellent adventures, and the background information is well done. But its overall value depends to some extent on your starting point. If you already own the three reprinted adventures, a significant part of its value is lost. However, two of those adventures are somewhat obscure, and there is a good chance that anyone who has accumulated all three is the sort of completist who will want the new edition anyway. If you’re not running WFRP4, you also miss out on a good portion of the supplement (WFRP4 statistics take up 25 pages of the total). But for WFRP4 GMs without the old releases, it is excellent.
It is not entirely without flaws. I have described those I perceive in the individual adventures above, but there is enough material that a good GM will be able to work it into whatever shape he or she prefers.
There are also in my view a couple of deficiencies in the campaign as a whole. First, although the von Liebwitz-von Dammenblatz feud is central to the entire campaign, its origins are described in the scantest fashion. Some more background would enrich the story. Why does von Dammenblatz blame the Gravin for his father’s death? Is it all a pretext? Or is the Gravin actually guilty? Is this a new feud or just the latest episode in one that has been running for centuries? Etc.
Second, the notes on combining the campaign with The Enemy Within are superficial. They do not address, for example, how the PCs drift in and out of the Gravin’s service. This matters in my opinion, as the campaign probably works best if combined with another, so that the similar structures of the adventures seem less repetitive.
But they are nitpicking points. Overall, I still think it’s great.
RATING 85 (70)
I have decided to introduce a numerical rating system for reviews to clarify my overall view. It uses a percentile scale (this is WFRP, after all), but should not be taken too seriously. I have also added retrospectively a numerical rating to my WFRP4 review.
For reprinted material (such as Rough Nights & Hard Days) I provide two scores: the first evaluates its value to new readers and the second to readers who already have the earlier versions of the material.
Guide to ratings:
The review copy of the Rough Nights & Hard Days was purchased at my own expense. I have received no inducements in connection with this review.
Artwork used without permission. No challenge intended to the rights holders.