Warning. This review contains spoilers for The Horned Rat and other parts of the Enemy Within campaign.

It has been thirty-five years in the making. Now that The Horned Rat is finally with us, has it been worth the wait?


When the Enemy Within campaign was first planned in 1986, the penultimate instalment was intended to be The Horned Rat. However, the adventure was never written. It was cancelled and replaced in 1988 with Something Rotten in Kislev, which has widely been recognised as a poor fit with the rest of the campaign. For its new Director’s Cut edition Cubicle 7 decided to return to the original plan for the campaign, and thus The Horned Rat now follows Power Behind the Throne.

Whether the released adventure resembles the original plan is a moot point. Very little is known about the original intentions for the scenario, and what is known only loosely resembles the published material. In my opinion it seems most likely that The Horned Rat is essentially a new adventure that explores similar themes to those planned for the original.

Covers then and now (1988 left, 2021 right)


The Horned Rat contains 159 pages of adventure content, divided into twenty chapters. Much of it is clearly and logically structured, but there are some sections where organisation is a problem; I shall return to these areas later. The overviews of the material are solid. There is a one-page adventure synopsis, though somewhat confusingly its subheadings do not accurately correspond with the chapters in name, number or order. There is a summary of the various villainous factions involved in the adventure. There is also a mind map of NPC relationships. This illustrates well their complex connections, but as most of the relationships remain behind the scenes, it is of surprisingly limited practical help in running the adventure. The lack of an index is by now no surprise.

One notable difference from previous parts of the campaign is the absence of “grognard boxes”. In light of the stated objective of the grognard boxes, to offer variations for players familiar with the original Enemy Within adventures, this is inevitable. The Horned Rat is, after all, new even to grognards. However, the variations contained in the grognard boxes were not only, and I would argue not even primarily, of use to grognards. Alternative options are of value to all GMs, and some variants would have been welcome here.

Graphical presentation is similar to previous instalments of the Enemy Within campaign, and the strengths and weaknesses will be familiar. The general points I have made in previous reviews for the most part also apply to The Horned Rat, and I will not repeat them here. There are, however, a small number of matters specific to The Horned Rat that are worthy of comment.

There are a few niggles regarding maps. Some significant locations, such as the undercity “staging post” (pp33 and 55) and meeting place of the Yellow Fang (p73), are not mapped. It is not an onerous task for the GM to improvise maps in these cases, but the locations are important enough that this burden should not fall to the GM in a commercial scenario. More problematic is the region map. It covers well the area from Middenheim to Brass Keep (though it would be better if it were presented when it is first needed, around p85, rather than delayed until p107), but lacks detail of the Middle Mountains, which the PCs visit in the adventure’s later stages. It leaves GMs who don’t wish to handwave travel and exploration with a lot of work to do.

The adventure also refers to two locations in the Middenpalaz (a counting house, p37, and basement chapel, p103), which do not exist in the map in Power Behind the Throne (p103). This anomaly has no practical consequences, as the adventurers are not likely to explore the Middenpalaz room by room, but it increases my conviction that its map in Power Behind the Throne is neither very useful nor palatial.

Finally, the map of the dwarfhold where the climax takes place lacks a scale, and its location numbers are not replicated in the text descriptions, making it harder than it should be to go from the text to the map.

I have a couple of grumbles about the handouts. The map drawn on the inside of a rat hide (p76) does not match the text description very accurately. This is not merely a pedantic point. The map is a critical clue, and it is hard to see how the players are supposed to derive the required information from it in its current form. It would also have been nice to have a handout of the map to Karak Skygg (p130), though one is certainly not essential.


In an abandoned dwarfhold deep in the Middle Mountains warlock-engineer Maliss Manwrack of Clan Skryre is embarked on an ambitious project. He is constructing a vast warp lightning cannon to strike the Chaos moon Morrslieb, cause it to break apart and rain warpstone down on the Empire.

Obtaining the research and resources required for this plan has required multifarious schemes across the Empire. Manwrack has obtained Dagmar von Wittgenstein’s notes on the Chaos moon; stolen treatises on astronomy and ballistics from the Collegium Theologica and Temple of Ulric in Middenheim; kidnapped an astromancer; and conspired with the cult of the Yellow Fang to procure gunpowder and slaves to carry out his plan.

The Horned Rat Contents


Let’s be careful out there.

– Watch Commander Schutzmann*

A skaven supergun is certainly one of the more gonzo WFRP plots, but the beginning of the adventure is more down to earth. In Middenheim the characters are recruited by Watch Commander Schutzmann to serve as agents of a special commission investigating threats to the city that were uncovered during Power Behind the Throne. This arrangement sets up the classic structures of police procedural dramas. The characters receive briefings and are sent on various missions in and around Middenheim. It’s Hügelstrasse Blues. What the conceit lacks in subtlety, it makes up for in efficacy; there are none of the problems with hooks or motivation that have affected previous instalments of the campaign.

Helpfully the text considers how to entangle the PCs in this undertaking both in the situation where The Horned Rat is played as part of the Enemy Within campaign and also in the (admittedly less likely) circumstance where it is run as a standalone adventure. Unhelpfully the layout of this material is garbled. GMs of the Enemy Within campaign need to look to Power Behind the Throne for the initial meeting with Schutzmann, while those running a standalone adventure will find the corresponding information in The Horned Rat. Subsequent meetings with Schutzmann are dealt with in The Horned Rat, though the text (p13) misdirects GMs of the campaign by seeming to imply that these meetings are only relevant to the standalone adventure. The meetings with Schutzmann (pp32-35) are introduced after events that take place in those meetings (pp28-31) and long after the timeline of events that results from them (p14). To illustrate the problem, if the adventure is to be played as part of the Enemy Within campaign, the reading order that I believe provides the best sense is: Power Behind the Throne, p112, The Horned Rat, pp34-35, p14, pp28-31, then pp36ff. The text is not indecipherable, but it really could have been laid out more clearly.

The adventure then breaks down into three phases. In the first, the characters are faced with eight short episodes of between four and eight pages each. They can be run independently, but are designed to overlap, and a timeline is presented for coordinating the different components. This part of the adventure is essentially ‘A Rough Night at the Three Feathers’ writ large.

Four of the episodes wrap up loose ends from Power Behind the Throne. There are missions to track down the other senior members of the of the Purple Hand in Middenheim. Erich Kalzbad tries to cover his tracks with a series of arson attacks and flee the city. Gottfried Jarmund tries to broker a deal to turn informer, but his plans are scuppered when the criminal gang with whom he is sheltering holds him for ransom. Vizier Bahr assumes leadership of the cult and tries to continue his necromantic experiments. The PCs also learn the fate of Gotthard von Wittgenstein, who has been kidnapped by skaven seeking to learn more about his family’s researches into warpstone.

The original Enemy Within campaign has often been criticised for its large number of loose ends, so it is gratifying to see many of them tidied up here. The story of the Purple Hand in Middenheim reaches a fuller conclusion and forms a satisfying coda to Power Behind the Throne. The resolution of the Gotthard von Wittgenstein storyline, however, is less successful. It is brief and bathetic. It does not address his activities with the Jade Sceptre cult or fit well with the ‘Wine of Madness’ scenario in the Power Behind the Throne Companion (pp21-25). Perhaps this storyline matters less to players than it does to grognard GMs who have waited more than three decades for a conclusion, but its dénouement is disappointingly perfunctory.

The Purple Hand material provides the first detailed insight into the day-to-day operations of the cult. It is welcome, and perhaps overdue, that this pivotal organisation finally becomes more substantial. The cult’s activities reveal a notable and apparently new-found interest in cryptography. The characters find many coded messages between cultists, but the players are not required to exercise their puzzle-solving skills in deciphering them. Code keys are to be found left in convenient places, even when it makes little sense. Erich Kalzbad, who is otherwise assiduously destroying documents around the city, somehow contrives to leave a partially encoded message lying on his desk (pp37-38). Whether you find solving codes fun roleplaying is a matter of taste, but solving them when the solution is handed to you strikes me as pointless. If messages are to be encrypted, it would seem to me preferable either to allow players to use their own skills to decode them, or to make obtaining the code sheets more meaningful. The adventurers could be given the opportunity to intercept a new decryption sheet when a periodic code change takes place, or the key to a code could be found in the possession of Purple Hand contacts earlier in the campaign (from Kastor Lieberung to Brunhide Klaglich).

Unknown, Skaven Encounter, 2021, from The Horned Rat

The remaining four episodes in the adventure’s first phase entangle the adventurers in the schemes of the skaven. There have been several thefts of objects important to Manwrack’s plan. A Clan Eshin assassin is murdering enemies of the skaven. Cultists are seeking to prevent the skaven’s exposure by disrupting the dissection of skaven corpses at the Collegium Theologica. Manwrack has even planted a spying device in Ulrich Schutzmann’s office (Akoustikk Ratty, a magical mechanical rat inspired by the CIA’s Acoustic Kitty experiment**).

These episodes have some points of intersection with those that concern the Purple Hand and Gotthard von Wittgenstein, though they are few in number and in a couple of cases their sense is questionable. The surprising alliance between the skaven and the Purple Hand mentioned in Power Behind the Throne reappears, but lacks any explanation or rationale. Since its role in either adventure is almost negligible, it would seem better to remove it, if it cannot be explained. In Power Behind the Throne Snikkit’s warband can be replaced with another Chaos warband or Purple Hand agents. In The Horned Rat, it can perform a different raid (such as the one proposed on p32).

The connection between Gotthard von Wittgenstein and the skaven also does not stand up well to scrutiny. While the idea that the skaven are interested in Dagmar von Wittgenstein’s research into Morrslieb is promising, there is no evidence of this in Death on the Reik. There the skaven seem solely focused on the warpstone meteorite. It would perhaps make sense for GMs to add to Death on the Reik scenes where the skaven attempt to recover documents from the signalling tower and Castle Wittgenstein.

These episodes embrace the no-such-things-as-skaven trope with gusto. In the face of widespread scepticism the adventurers must uncover persuasive evidence of the skaven’s existence and alert the city’s authorities to their threat. This lends the adventure quite a contemporary feel. The PCs are immersed in a world of fake news, media manipulation and conspiracy theories (though, of course, in this case the conspiracy theory is true).

The characters’ success in exposing the skaven is tracked with an evidence score, which has ramifications later in the adventure. It is a clever arrangement, though it introduces a level of abstraction. Successes and failures do not lead to specific sequences of events. Instead they cause a general reduction or increase in the threat faced. For example, a high evidence score leads to greater support from the authorities, fewer hostile encounters and bonuses to tests.

As befits the context, Middenheim’s criminal underworld plays an important role in this phase. The PCs need to cultivate and make use of criminal contacts to obtain information for their investigations. Familiar faces like Josef and Karl Matthaus reappear from Power Behind the Throne alongside new ones, such as Sister Anais. However, all these connections serve merely as gateways ultimately to one figure: Alfric Half-Nose. Half-Nose functions in the adventure as a sort of underworld search engine, always on hand to dispense critical clues. He’s Middenheim’s very own Huggy Bear. Dependent on your perspective, that makes him a conveniently important contact or a clumsily omnipresent deus ex machina. GMs who dislike the arrangement, though, can easily redistribute his information to other NPCs. Half-Nose, of course, also appears in the Power Behind the Throne Companion, though the information in that volume is neither necessary nor even useful for GMs of The Horned Rat.

Unknown, Alfric Half-Nose, 2021, from The Horned Rat

Half-Nose has the answer

The adventurers’ activities inevitably bring them to the attention of the Low Kings, the leaders of Middenheim’s principal criminal gangs. It is a nice touch that the party has to manage its relationships with them carefully, respecting their turf, striking deals or even playing them off against one another. Missteps in these dealings have real consequences and antagonise powerful foes. One complaint, however, is that nowhere in the scenario is there background information on the Low Kings. GMs are expected to refer instead to Middenheim: City of the White Wolf (pp130-134). Those without that supplement are left somewhat in the dark. Given their importance, there really should be a short background paragraph on Middenheim’s gangs in The Horned Rat.

In isolation the episodes in the first phase are quite straightforward scenarios. They are brief, and investigations tend to hinge on a single critical clue (a receipt, p37; a list of donations, p44; an underworld tip-off, p51; a flagstone that has been moved, p60; etc). However, the overlapping and interconnecting storylines present in combination a more complex whole. This makes the adventure potentially more satisfying and engaging, but also poses a greater challenge for the GM.

The situation is not helped by some aspects of the content’s organisation, which make the scenario even harder to follow than it needs to be. There are problems with the sequencing of information, where prior knowledge is assumed of what comes later. For example, Herr Gelb’s letter is referred to on p57 before it is described on p59; on p60 the torture chamber is detailed before it is explained how the PCs get there; on p69 Bors Sirk is discussed before he is introduced; on p69 again events at the Middenpalaz follow their aftermath. There is also a lack of cross references: a connection from Gottfried Jarmund to Vogel on p48 is not picked up in pp50ff; one from Asbjorn Thaler to Bors Sirk on p38 is ignored in pp69ff; the Ansten Krohn connection between p73 and p75 is not highlighted. A diligent GM can pick up all these details, but more re-reading is required than should really be necessary.

The complexity of this phase of the scenario seems at times to have confused even the developers and led to a small number of continuity errors. For example, we hear on p38 that “someone called Englebrecht”, despite having just been told that “he doesn’t exist”, and on p50 the text muddles different cryptographic codes (it should refer to the code sheet on p48, not pp37-38).

More careful editing would have improved the material’s usability. Even better would have been flowcharts documenting the adventure’s sense. Cubicle 7 are not the only games publisher to prioritise text descriptions over diagrammatic ones, but it is a bad habit in the industry. Diagrams can often convey information more effectively. I have myself prepared a set of flowcharts for The Horned Rat, which can be dowloaded from here.

The first phase culminates in an audience with the Graf and the Knight Eternal, in which the adventurers can present their evidence. This resembles the audience that formed the conclusion of early drafts of Power Behind the Throne, but which was rejected as being anticlimactic and perhaps even unplayable. In this situation, however, it appears to work well. The context does not require a dramatic climax, and the GM is well prepared with extensive notes on the important questions, covering both the ground the characters must cover and the reactions of the NPCs.

The PCs’ success in persuading the Graf is determined by a Charm test with specific modifiers based on the evidence score and their conduct in the audience. This approach is characteristic of The Horned Rat, which tends to resort to quantitative mechanics rather than GM judgement to determine the course of events at critical junctures.

Overall, the adventure’s first phase is excellent. It offers a good variety of investigation, exploration and combat. The PCs find themselves searching for documents, questioning witnesses, even chasing pigeons. They need to venture into the undercity and to battle the undead and demonic guardians of a Purple Hand hideout. Although many of the episodes culminate in confrontations, not all end this way, and at times the characters have to negotiate and win over their targets.

One of the best features of this phase of the adventure is that the PCs are free to fail. The adventure is not derailed if members of the Purple Hand escape, or the skaven’s plans are not foiled. There is no need for heavy-handed intervention to keep the plot on track.

Unknown, Riders, 2021, from The Horned Rat

The second phase of the adventure repeats the basic structure of the first. Ulrich Schutzmann sends the adventurers on a further three missions to investigate the skaven threat in and around Middenheim. A band of starving, cannibal skaven has been trapped in the undercity by a rival clan. The population of the village of Unterfraus has been abducted or murdered by skaven in order to preserve their secrecy. A wounded mutating griffon, struck by a test fire of Manwrack’s warp lightning cannon, threatens the village of Gladbeich. At the end of these missions the PCs can present any additional evidence they amass in another audience with the Graf.

Unlike those in the first phase, these episodes are discrete and linear. There is no interaction between their plots, and opportunities for the PCs to influence events are quite limited. Moreover, the additional evidence the party can obtain is meagre. The result is that this section seems something of a lull. The PCs mark time until they are dispatched to take on the adventure’s final section.

I presume the designers’ intentions in this phase were to ensure that enough evidence of the skaven threat had been accumulated to make the transition to the final stage plausible. However, it is possible for the adventurers to gather sufficient information in the first phase, and in such a situation there seems to be no reason to delay triggering the finale with these additional episodes (contra p84 of the adventure).

The transition to the final phase is occasioned by a request from the Graf’s daughter to investigate various leads to Brass Keep, a fortress in the Middle Mountains occupied by forces of Chaos. If the PCs have not successfully put the pieces of evidence together, the GM may have to adapt this section to make it clear that she has other sources of information that complete the picture.

Curiously The Graf’s daughter is presented in The Horned Rat as a serious and steely political figure. This is very much at odds with her character in Power Behind the Throne. Although she is no longer described there as a “truly dumb blonde”, as she was in the first-edition campaign (p42), she is still depicted as naive and more interested in romance than politics. She finds politics “sordid”, “getting a ‘fine, upstanding husband’ is a major goal”, she “longs to be wooed, like a princess in a fairy tale”, etc (Power Behind the Throne, p121). The Horned Rat attempts to justify the discrepancy by claiming that “recent events have brought to the fore previously hidden reserves of Todbringer steel”, but this is a flimsy excuse, and her sudden transformation is implausible. If Katarina Todbringer is to occupy this role in The Horned Rat, it would be better to alter her character in Power Behind the Throne. A simpler solution, however, is to use a different court figure in The Horned Rat; the Graf is most suitable, but the Midden Marshals would also suffice.

Unknown, The Picket, 2021, from The Horned Rat

The third and final phase of the adventure is more conventional in its style. There is a single plot, which largely revolves around exploration and combat. The characters are first sent to the palisade that stands guard against Brass Keep. After a brief investigation into gunpowder being stolen for the skaven, they witness at close quarters a failed skaven assault on the keep. Crucially they also hear reports of Manwrack’s warp lightning cannon firing from afar, and identify its site as a lost dwarfhold called Karak Skygg.

This part of the adventure is tense and evocative. The palisade is a fragile bulwark against the forces of Chaos, Brass Keep a dark and brooding presence, the skaven attack a dramatic set piece. Together they provide a very good change of style and pace after the urban investigative play that precedes this sequence.

More variation comes from the ensuing trek into the mountains towards Karak Skygg. This is accompanied by useful information on handling mountain hazards and weather, and some encounters for the journey. I note, however, that the hook to encourage the adventurers to head for Karak Skygg is a little weak. The scenario assumes reports of green lightning weapons will suffice.

Unknown, The MIddle Mountains, 2021, from The Horned Rat

The adventure reaches its climax at Karak Skygg. Much of The Horned Rat has the feel of a spy thriller, and the finale is no exception. Manwrack’s lair is worthy of a Bond villain. It is a five-level complex, filled with skaven, cultists and slaves.

The structure manages to be both interesting and plausible. It makes sense as a functioning base for the skaven, and contains vestiges of its past as a dwarfhold. All five levels are fully mapped, though only a selection of locations are described, and those that are would occasionally benefit from a little more detail. For example, the written account of the slave pits mentions exiting via an equipment store (p144), but the map does not specify which room that is. Those parts of the fortress that are not described can be populated with random encounter tables.

You Only Live Twice

Manwrack’s lair (well, almost)

Navigating the lair is not an exercise in clear-the-room dungeoneering. It calls for a thoughtful approach. The characters will need to use stealth or subterfuge even to gain entrance. To foil Manwrack’s moonshot, a careful scheme or clever improvisation is required. The adventure outlines several approaches the characters could take, such as assassinating Manwrack, sabotaging the cannon, provoking a slave revolt or simply blowing Karak Skygg sky high with the dwarfhold’s ancient self-destruct mechanism. There are also several potential allies for the mission, including rival skaven factions, mutinous slaves and a quisling engineer. The PCs may even find a familiar face among the slaves: Janna Eberhauer, Deputy High Wizard of Middenheim, has been kidnapped to assist Manwrack in tracking Morrslieb. It all makes for a rip-roaring finale. Should the PCs fail, there is once again the possibility of an apocalyptic outcome, laconically described in the text: “It’s carnage. The party needs to get out of there.” (p151).

This section packs a lot into its fifteen pages. It could be improved if there were a detailed description of Manwrack’s weapon of mass corruption and specifically how it can be sabotaged; this is left disappointingly vague. Eberhauer’s kidnap seems like a missed opportunity to connect the investigation in Middenheim with Manwrack’s plot. GMs will also have to manage a small risk of a total party kill: particularly clumsy groups might find themselves captured and dropped into vats in a warpstone refinery (p149). Nonetheless, these should be relatively minor issues for the GM to deal with.

The final scene of the adventure sets up the campaign’s concluding episode, Empire in Ruins. The PCs are rescued from the mountainside by Heinrich Todbringer’s airship. No indication is given of future events, but there is some brief guidance for the GM on how to continue the adventure in the interim, so the campaign is not entirely left hanging.

Unknown, Skaven, 2021, from The Horned Rat

The book contains a small amount of background information on skaven. A three-page bestiary provides profiles for eight types of skaven and rules for firearms and poisoned wind globes. Although short, it concisely covers what is required, and further information can be found in The Horned Rat Companion. However, the background on the different skaven factions in Middenheim (pp16-17) is not as clear as it could be. For example, Gnawretch Skrray seems to be part of Clan Scrutens, but the only explicit indication of this in either The Horned Rat or Middenheim: City of the White Wolf is an unlabelled line on the former’s diagram of relationships. It is at times a little difficult to follow the relationships of the different skaven clans in the adventure.

The skaven in The Horned Rat have a steampunk air, evident in everything from clockwork spy rats to Manwrack’s warpstone-powered prosthetics. Heinrich Todbringer’s airship continues the theme. This is consistent with the tone in later editions of WFB, but is different from WFRP1 and the original version of The Enemy Within. Most of these elements can easily be modified or removed, if GMs want a setting with technology closer to the levels of Renaissance Europe. The only exceptions are the warp lightning cannon and the airship. The former is central to the plot and indispensible. The latter could be replaced with an overland journey back to Middenheim (though this would entail altering the opening of Empire in Ruins).

Unknown, Maliss Manwrack, 2021, from The Horned Rat

Full steam ahead

Since some of the adventure takes place in Middenheim’s undercity, there is also a nine-page guide to this environment. This material expands on the somewhat disappointing coverage of the undercity in Middenheim: City of the White Wolf. As in that volume, the focus is not on describing the undercity in specific detail. There are no maps; travel is instead handled abstractly via Navigation and Track tests. The content mainly comprises an extensive table of random hazards and encounters. The approach for the most part works well.

The treatment of overland travel and geography in Cubicle 7’s reissue of The Enemy Within has hitherto been patchy. The Horned Rat avoids the worst of the campaign’s problems in this area, but is still a little uneven. There is a detailed timeline and description of the journey from Middenheim to Brass Keep in phase three, but oddly no equivalent routes and timelines for the other journeys in the adventure (to Unterfraus and Gladbeich in phase two and from Brass Keep to Karak Skygg in phase three). It is not clear why a detailed account is considered necessary for one journey, but not the others, particularly in light of the weaknesses of the region map in the Middle Mountains.

Analysis of the region map shows that distances have again been extended from those in the first edition maps. The distance from Middenheim to Lindenheim has increased from around 15 miles to 45. However, the maps of the area in the first edition are vague and settlements and other geographical features have changed, so it is hard to make meaningful comparisons. Where a timeline is supplied, implied travelling speeds are quite slow. The daily distance covered by road on horseback is 27.5 miles per day, which is substantially lower than the 40 miles per day assumed in the first edition campaign (The Enemy Within, p6) and at least 42 miles per day in WFRP4 (p262) and the Enemy in Shadows Companion (p25).

Unknown, Warp Lightning Cannon and Slaves, 2021, from The Horned Rat


Thirty-five years of expectation is a heavy burden to shoulder, but The Horned Rat does an admirable job. It has a strong plot, is full of atmospheric and exciting scenes and brings new themes, locations and styles of play to the campaign. My only substantial reservation is that its presentation, especially in the earlier parts, could have been much clearer for the GM. Notwithstanding that criticism, it is a very good adventure and a worthy addition to the Enemy Within campaign.

To buy The Horned Rat from DriveThruRPG, click here.

My review of The Horned Rat Companion is here.

For my other WFRP4 reviews, see this link.

I would like to thank Cubicle 7 for providing a copy of The Horned Rat for review.


* This isn’t part of Schutzmann’s script in the adventure, but should be.

** Thanks to Faster Than Jesus on the Winds of Chaos forum for pointing this out.

Artwork used without permission. Still image taken from You Only Live Twice (1967). No challenge intended to the rights holders. Links to DriveThruRPG are affiliate links. I receive a small payment for purchases made through them. This does not change the cost paid by the purchaser. I have received no inducements in connection with this review.


34 thoughts on “I SMELL A RAT

  1. It’s good to read your thoughts. I also found Katarina Todbringer’s change in character between PBtT and THR to be too sudden and difficult to reasonably explain. I’m not sure replacing her with another courtly figure in THR is the best solution because she plays an important role in Empire in Ruins which also requires her to have an interest in politics. It would have been good if the character change had been made more thoroughly in PBtT, although that may make her easier for the PCs to access. I’m not sure that’s necessarily a problem, though; her huge influence on the Graf is pretty much irrelevant to how the plot resolves.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. Personally I don’t see her role in Empire in Ruins as so important as to require a significant interest in politics. She mainly turns up to get married. But you’re right that her character in Power Behind the Throne can also be changed.


  2. I lost it at ‘Heinrich Todbringer’s Airship’… The dwarfs have their gyrocopters and the empire has its Steamtanks, but… an airship? And Heinrich no less?

    I can’t help but chuckle.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. For what it’s worth, Heinrich’s airship is Dwarf-built – it’s a gift from the Dwarf Engineer’s Guild, an explicitly also a new and experimental invention. (PBtT 4E, p. 20)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. More bizarre that they would gift it to him. What’s the reasoning behind such a prestigious gift landing in the ownership of Heinrich Todbringer?

        Madness if you ask me. Then again I feel stuff like that should be incredibly rare and almost ‘wonders of the old world’, same goes for gryocopters. It feels like the airship inclusion seems more like just a plot element for this scenario. I guess its something ‘cool’ for those GM’s who kind of want to run their worlds with a bit less of a grounded approach.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It was given by Middenheim’s dwarfs “in gratitude for the sanctuary the city afforded them for over 2500 years”. As far as I can see, there isn’t really any great need for it in either The Horned Rat or Empire in Ruins.

          Liked by 2 people

    2. Dwarfs have had airships for some time – they’re in 1E (Doomstones:Heart of Chaos) and there’s a hot air balloon in 1E Death’s Dark Shadow from way back in 1991. I remember one depicted on a John Blanche colour plate in the original rulebook, although that was quite a fanciful illustration. They’re not exactly new to Warhammer and far more plausible than gyrocopters.

      Heinrich’s dirigible is a gift from the Dwarfs, so pretty much unique within the Empire and not something that humans have built themselves.

      (Gideon, I can probably help with the clue flowcharts if you want to get in touch)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Clue charts could be so great, if included in adventures in a fitting style added by an artist. Imagine Gideon’s SoB chart on one page designed e.g. as a mind map drawn by an in world investigator like Zavant Koninger.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I don’t really understand why games companies don’t use them more. Flowcharting is a core game design skill, and presumably is used in the design process. Perhaps they don’t like showing how the sausage is made, or maybe games designers are all frustrated novelists. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Good review, as usual. Since I’m not planning to run THR myself I didn’t look close enough at it to notice many of the issues you bring up, but I agree that on the whole it’s a solid adventure. (In fact I was pleasantly surprised by it.)

    As for Katarina’s apparent personality change, I think it’s quite welcome. I agree it’s odd that it wasn’t prepared more in the new PBtT, but a fairly easy fix is to assume that her apparently naive nature is mainly other people’s prejudiced idea of her. This is arguably implied in some of the NPC writeups especially in the PBtT Companion,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t know if it is welcome or not to have Katarina “naive and idiotic” or “serious and steely” regarding political matters. I like that the prestigious Todbringer appears as a fin de race…

      There are however serious and steely courtesans in the Todbringer court, that could potentially take that role, depending on how things happened during the previous plot:
      -Janna Eberhauer;
      -Emmanuelle Schlagen (who is a best candidate to see “recent events to brought to her fore previously hidden reserves”);
      -Natasha Sinnlich;
      -Kristen Jung;
      -Edel Müller…
      (I’ve not read The Horned Rat, so perhaps that some of those couldn’t fit because they already serve another purpose?)

      Male characters could also take that role, as suggested by Gideon, but I presume that Theoaxner would find welcome that a female character would get some active importance in the opus.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I meant the obsolete acceptation of courtesan, “one attached to the court of a prince”, which is exactly the main acceptation of its etymological equivalent in my mother tongue: “Personne qui est attachée à la cour, au service d’un roi ou d’un prince.”.

          This meaning is very close -but subtlety different- to the main acceptation of courtier, “One who frequents the court of a sovereign; an attendant at court”. Subtlety different, and in fact closer to what could describe the characters I’ve named. So you are very right in your assumption that I should had mean a courtier. As I intended to specifically name female courtiers, it could be argued that I in fact meant courtieress.

          The most common English acceptation of courtesan, “A court-mistress; a woman of the town, a prostitute”, also have a somewhat similar misogynist meaning in its etymological equivalent in my mother tongue, but as an adjective, and this meaning is rare: “Qui caractérise une courtisane, une femme de mœurs légères”.

          So, not a false friend, hence, but a same words to whom different connotations are linked. A “courtier”, however, means a broker or an underwriter in French.

          Anyway: I stand corrected. Thank you very much.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. As a parenthetical matter, I found the role of the “Ladies-at-Court” in the adventure as written rather odd – they’re, apparently, basically something between high-class escorts and ornamental general-purpose glamour girls. The closest historical parallel I was able to find was, indeed, Renaissance Italian courtesans.

            Historically, usually, “ladies-at-court” or ladies-in-waiting would be attendants of a queen or other important female noble at the court. In my own game, where I had the Graf’s wife still alive (at least at the start of the adventure…) I simply made the “ladies-at-court” members of her entourage.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Good remark.

              Wikipedia state that “In the late Middle Ages, when the court of the Emperor no longer moved around constantly, the household of the Empress, as well as the equivalent household of the German Princely Consorts, started to develop a less fluid and more strict organisation with set court offices.

              The court model of the Duchy of Burgundy, as well as the Spanish court model, came to influence the organisation of the Austrian Imperial Court during the 16th century, when the Burgundian Netherlands, Spain and Austria were united through the Habsburg Dynasty. In the early and mid-16th century, the female courtiers kept by female Habsburgs in the Netherlands and Austria was composed of one Hofmesterees (Court Mistress) or Dame d’honneur who served as the principal lady-in-waiting; one Hofdame or Mere de Filles, who was second in rank and deputy of the Hofmesterees, as well as being in charge of the Eredames (Maids of Honour), also known as Demoiselle d’honneur, Fille d’honneur or Junckfrauen depending on language (Dutch, French and Austrian German respectively), and finally the Kamenisters (Chamber Maids).

              The early modern Princely Courts in Germany were modeled after the Imperial Austrian court model. This court model divided the ladies-in-waiting in a chief lady-in-waiting named Oberhofmeisterin (a widowed or married elder woman) who supervised the Hoffräulein (Maids of Honour), of which one or two could be promoted to the middle rank of Kammerfräulein (Maid of Honour of the Chamber). The Princely German Courts in turn became the role model of the Scandinavian courts of Denmark and Sweden in the 16th century.”

              Anika Elise Nikse is intended to be very recently deceased (in 2512IC), but I feel her decease should still happen before adventurers reach Middenheim.

              Couldn’t the ladies at court instead be attendants to Brigit Nikse, Boris’s old mother, would she still be alive? (She is probably implied being deceased, as she isn’t present in the adventure, but is she explicitly stated dead?). The Gravin Mother have, like the Graf himself, a too high condition to be accessible to the characters, so there wouldn’t be a need to add her as a character part of the plot.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. My keeping Annika-Elise alive was a deliberate and fairly major reshuffling – I decided the Jade Sceptre setup was much more interesting if she was still around. I’ll go into more detail on this only on request. 🙂

                “Couldn’t the ladies at court instead be attendants to Brigit Nikse, Boris’s old mother, would she still be alive?”

                I suppose, but I feel it would be more obvious to make them attendants of Katarina. With the German court model you refer to above, Hildegarde would be a good fit for the formidable Oberhofmesterin and the “ladies at court” could be the Hoffräulein. You’d have to modify the NPC dynamics a little since the antagonism between Katarina and the ladies-at-court wouldn’t make sense – but to be honest, it really doesn’t make much sense in the adventure either. It kind of belongs with the “truly dumb blonde”.


                1. I am curious to know more, on your reshuffle of the Jade Sceptre, Goebbels and Nikse. So if you have the time and the pleasure to share it here or elsewhere, I would be happy to read it.

                  I suggested Boris’s mother rather than Katarina, because:
                  1) as you write, Katarina’s relation with the ladies at court would have to be changed;
                  2) Katarina is a bastard, and I am not sure a bastard would reasonably had ladies at court to her service.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Apologies for the late reply, and for the wall of text. Here’s what I’m doing with Annika-Elise and the Jade Sceptre:

                    The Kurfürstin (Elector-consort) Annika-Elise is still very much alive, though a little older than described in the Middenheim books – in her mid-to-late 20s. She and Boris have a son, Graf Konrad (4 or so years old). The marriage quickly soured after this, though, and is now very unhappy – in fact Boris’ depression is largely due to his unhappy marriage rather than the death of his wife (which hasn’t happened yet).
                    Annika-Elise is not on good terms with any of her stepchildren. She wants the sickly Stefan disinherited in favour of naming Konrad as heir, and there’s some mutual dislike between her and Boris’ two bastards, especially Katarina.
                    While Boris has grown more reclusive, Annika-Elise remains a party girl – in fact her already-famous parties have only been getting wilder. Her reputation is also increasingly scandalous, which she doesn’t mind much for the most part. One rumour she does make sure to strike down hard is the particularly nasty one that Konrad is, in fact, not Boris’ son (because it’s both damaging and, in fact, true). There are factions both for and against her around the court. And yeah, this subplot is straight out of A Game of Thrones.
                    She is also the leader or at least the chief sponsor of the Jade Sceptre, the cult forming an inner circle of her favourites. Her right-hand man and current main lover is Sir Lucius, the Knight Panther in charge of her bodyguard detail and a fellow cultist. Gotthard is also a high-ranking member, as was his now-disappeared father Samuel (also the father of Esther Lieberung and her PC double in my game) before him.
                    The Ladies-at-Court are mainly Annika-Elise’s attendants and ladies-in-waiting (although Emmanuelle Schlagen also waits on Katarina from time to time). None of them is a Jade Sceptre cultist, though one or two might be considered for induction. (Annika-Elise might even have set Boris up with Emmanuelle to get the old man off her back.)
                    Heinrich, as his father’s spymaster, suspects his stepmother and her supporters of plotting a coup; again, she quite openly strives to make her son the heir instead of Stefan. He and his spy Natassia are dimly aware she’s heading a shadowy cabal of some sort, but they don’t know it’s a Slaanesh cult.
                    Karl-Heinz Wasmeier is aware of Annika-Elise’s ambitions, probably also of the Jade Sceptre, and while he has no proof he strongly suspects the rumours about Konrad’s illegitimacy are true. Sooner or later the Kurfürstin will need to be removed – killed or discredited – being a wild card with her own designs on power, but for now she’s much more useful alive than dead, since her and her supporters’ much more obvious political maneuvering provides a useful distraction from his own schemes.
                    I’ve also tied Annika-Elise into the abbreviated Rough Nights & Hard Days plot I’ve intertwined with the run-up to PBtT. Annika-Elise replaces the Countess of Nuln as Grävin Marie-Ulrike’s cousin, but in fact she (Annika-Elise) DID have Dammenblatz’ father murdered. The Grävin is unaware of this, as is Dammenblatz of the various illegal shenanigans done on his befalf (by his steward, a Purple Hand cultist scheming to bring down both houses and hopefully take over Dammenblatz’ fortunes himself).
                    The final set piece of the “prologue act” before the Carnival and PBtT begins will be the Kurfürstin’s grand masquerade ball. I haven’t planned this out yet, but my current idea is that one way or another – depending on what the PCs do or don’t do – Annika-Elise will be either killed or discredited and forced to flee. The Gräfin will also find herself forced to quickly leave Middenheim (but might leave the PCs there on retainer to keep an eye on things), thus clearing the stage for the proper PBtT adventure. The death of his wife will shock Boris further into lethargy, although he’s not exactly mourning her. If she dies without being discredited, her death will be a great shock to Middenheim, but everyone will agree she would have wanted the Carnival to go on.

                    So basically, to make a very long story short, I’ve taken the implied backstory and moved it up so it’s happening right now instead. I find this is often a useful approach for adaptations.


    2. I don’t think it’s that out of the ordinary for a personality change like that at the age she is. You have a young, attractive, aristocratic (and probably spoiled) young woman indulging in court excess with no particular worry in the world have the situation of PBtT thrust upon her and she’s realised it’s time to grow up.
      I’ve known a few people like that (obviously not this exact situation) where things like parenthood or a death in the family have galvinised them.
      In this scenario, I think the problem is that a lot of the character development is off screen – Katarina has a nice development arc, but it’s mostly for the GM. As far as the player is concerned, they’re getting a series of snapshots. I don’t think that in and of itself is a problem though as roleplaying often sees that circumstance.
      It would be nice if a few seeds were planted in PBtT and possibly give her some more involvement in the first act of THR.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I wrote some of the Katarina material after PBtT, so I’m not neutral here. I also hated the ‘dumb blonde’ line in the original version, so I was very happy to see that gone.

        I think it’s important to see her mature as dramatic events unfold around her – after the climax of PBtT she really couldn’t continue to be a naive young woman protected by Zimperlich. THR sees her using her influence consciously… again a natural development given her likely role in PBtT.

        By the time EiR comes around, she’s not exactly a steely political player… but she is starting to show some acumen. It’s also important that her possible fate at the wedding (no spoilers) means something to the players – so I think it’s best the PCs get to know her as someone making a sacrifice rather than just a political prop.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Thanks for providing the additional detail about the thinking behind the character change. Personally I think she can still be presented as making a sacrifice in Empire in Ruins even without a significant interest in politics: her sacrifice is of her marital hopes. But either way, the character change just seemed too abrupt to me. If she is to be rewritten, Power Behind the Throne seems the better place to make the changes.


  4. A fine review again. And thanks for the citation; I never knew watching Adam Curtis films would ever have relevance to WFRP.
    I’ve been meaning to review the last two parts of TEW together but I’m still to get my thoughts into any clear order.
    I think the maps here (or lack thereof) are the worst in the 5 parts and probably my biggest issue with the product. Plot problems, whether subjective or technical, can be fixed, but maps are bit of an undertaking, especially if you’re not much of an artist or cartographer.
    I also agree about the layout and the overview, the information is there but it comes across as a little incosistent and confusing – I needed to read through that section a few times after going back from later sections. This is a little frustrating as I think it could be easily fixed with just another editing pass.
    The series of investigations in the first act/section were on average excellent. They did a good job of setting the scene, moving a lot of the background threads along and picking up on the dead ends from 1st edition. It’s worth noting that a couple of those scenarios do have specific results beyond impacting the evidence score such as befriending the anthropologist/zoologist.
    Manwrack’s lair was in need of a Skaven announcer but even without the name, there was a distinct James Bond feel to the ending.
    Don’t expect an index for this. We got one with PBtT late on, but no further PDF for THR has been released and the physical copy is imminent – it’s printed and it seems that it’s just the global shipping malarkey that has seen it delayed to next month. I would like to Cubicle 7 release a printable index for the 10 published books that can be downloaded. I’m not expecting it though, so I’ll continue to use elasticsearch against the PDFs, which does work very well, but it’s tied to my PC.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Regarding the missing maps, most of the locations are pretty simple, so don’t require great cartographic skill, unless, of course, you are using floorplans or a VTT; then it can be a much bigger problem. I would have preferred a proper map of the routes through the mountains from Brass Keep to to Karak Skygg, though. It’s all very well to handwave the details, but I think the GM should at least have the option of using something more precise.


      1. Biggest map miss on my read-through was the area around Brass Keep, the picket etc. There’s quite a bit of complicated / confusing action there.

        Thanks overall for the review though. Great work.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Another thing I thought of…

    “The surprising alliance between the skaven and the Purple Hand mentioned in Power Behind the Throne reappears, but lacks any explanation or rationale. Since its role in either adventure is almost negligible, it would seem better to remove it, if it cannot be explained. In Power Behind the Throne Snikkit’s warband can be replaced with another Chaos warband or Purple Hand agents.”

    If you’re going to run THR as a followup to PBtT, I do think Snikkit’s band of Skaven mercenaries in its updated form does serve a narrative purpose; it allows you, with a little bit of nimble footwork, to tie the adventures together even if the PCs fail PBtT.

    I’d do it something like this: instead of the final interview with Watch Commander Schutzmann, where he offers the PCs a job (thus leading into THR) happening after the PCs save the Graf, I’d have him interview them right after their encounter with Snikkit’s crew. After this initial questioning, he asks them to return for a second interview after the Carnival’s over – he might have work for them if they’re interested. Thus, they already have an interview with Schutzmann booked after the Carnival even if they should completely miss or bungle the finale of PBtT.

    Then you could run THR more or less as-is, rewriting the necessary bits. The plots about mopping up the remains of the Purple Hand would need to be skipped or rewritten, but the Skaven would be a potential menace no matter who’s actually running Middenheim. If running THR after Wasmeier actually succesfully replaced the Graf, I’d instead add a subplot where a) the PCs gradually come up on Wasmeier’s radar, leading perhaps to him trying to arrange suicide missions for them, and/or siccing them on his cult rivals, and b) the PCs in turn come to suspect there’s something wrong with the Graf and his advisors. You could have Katarina become aware of them and reach out, as well. This might – or might not – lead to them unmasking the fake Graf and the villainous Law Lord at some point during the adventure.

    Of course, even the PCs fail even to uncover this, then Empire in Ruins would be quite interesting, with a fake Graf and his chief advisor secretly undermining the efforts and peace, probably keen on getting rid of both Katarina and Heinrich, and also very annoyed by the Nordlander separatists…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the alliance does connect the two adventures. I think it is a reasonable presumption that the designers’ intention in replacing the Chaos warband of the original Power Behind the Throne with Snikkit’s skaven was precisely to do that. My complaint was really that (1) the alliance between the Purple Hand and skaven lacks in-game logic; (2) it plays no part in the adventure and serves no narrative purpose other than to link the adventures; and (3) there is actually no need to link the plots of Power Behind the Throne and The Horned Rat. I like your suggestion, and think it improves the progression between the adventures, but I think it could be run just as well without there being any connection between the skaven and Purple Hand. For example, Snikkit’s attack could be a slave raid (as suggested in The Horned Rat, p32), and have nothing to do with Karl-Heinz Wasmeier.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Fair enough, agreed. I thought it seemed convenient to have a connection since a) the warband in ‘Chaos strikes by night’ also supplies clues to the Reya Ehrlich plot, being the ones who kidnapped her, and b) having them be Skaven, again, provides a connection and foreshadowing to THR. I didn’t think the Purple Hand connection needs to amount to more than Wasmeier hiring the most deniable (whilst reliable – perhaps he’s hired them before?) assets he can for the kidnapping job.

        Then again, I admit I’m a little fuzzy and what does and doesn’t make sense with the Skaven, such as what their interactions with human groups who know about them look like.


  6. Good review (as always)! My main issue with THR (some of the organisational chaos aside) is that the “apocalyptic” ending is barely taken into account in the next chapter, other than as a modifier on a table. If the Empire HAS been mullered by an event of this intensity the GM is pretty much going to have to wing the whole thing.

    Also, that dumb airship… Upon reading that (and before getting EIR) I had made my mind up to have some kind of overland trek instead. After getting EIR and finding out that IT’S NEVER USED AGAIN that idea was cemented. It’s dumb, because it’s up there with “Look, it’s the eagles!” from Tolkien. Without giving away any EIR spoilers, using the airship would solve a lot of problems near the finale, but it’s never brought up…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If Mórrslieb breaks apart and rain warpstone down on the Old World…, then…, it might perhaps be time to play Robin D. Laws’s Hearts of Chaos (Hogshead, 2001) instead of Empire in Ruins?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree with that assessment. In many ways it’s similar to the chaos gate ending in SoB, which is mentioned the odd time in DotR but largely forgotten about after that.

        I’m yet to read the EiR Companion and see if that addresses some of those issues but it seems like EiR suffers from the culmination of a decision tree sequence run out of control. I do have sympathies as this can be very difficult to keep a lid on as by this point something like 100 hours worth of adventure has taken place, which is a lot of time for players to both complete any of the predicted routes as the near limitless possibilites that aren’t predicted.

        I still like EIR, but at times it reads like it is trying to herd cats.


        1. SPOILER ALET: It doesn’t… I agree with you – I really WANT to like EIR, but it can’t help but be anything other than a massive railroad. I had to wince at one section that literally read like “We must thank you for saving / trying to save our powerful NPC friend. Now, in our anger / grief we must ask you to go on this quest. (delete depending on what happened previously)”. It’s an illusion of choice – which I believe was the problem the architect struggled with in the Matrix 😉


          1. I hope the good aspects of Empire in Ruins might be included and enrich Gideon’s End of the Empire, together with the already included pitch of Empire in Chaos, the original Empire in Flames and the fan made Empire at War…


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