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Monday, May 5, 2014

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay- Death on the Reik

The long and winding River Reik has many places to adventure, but none so fearsome as Castle Wittgenstein. Just look at the Ian Miller cover, it is all kinds of awesome. Death on the Reik is a great module and I was fortunate enough to play it just as it was reaching America. We started playing the seminal, masterful series the Enemy Within right after (or there abouts) after THE CAMPAIGN. I do recall us playing a proto-warhammer campaign where I was playing a bounty hunter with a Strength (S) score of 2! Not much came of that.

As I noted here (Small, but vicious dog) my second character in WFRP was a rat catcher who got killed by a bird winged mutant, Alas poor Wilhelm! I can still remember his corpse being draped across some branches, ahhh good RPG times! Thinking back on it I'm pretty sure when started the Enemy Within campaign, the ratcatcher was not my original character. I started with the elf from Shadows over Bogehaufen, the minstrel Malmir Giluviel. Whether he died or not I can't recall, but by the time we reach Bogenhaufen I was playing
my rat catcher. He is the character I think of when I look back at this module, but he was one of many I played. Funny aside, when we reached the  castle many of the original
characters had perished, not just mine.

Since we did participate Shadows over Bofenhaufen and Dave's character was a Boatman we quickly saw the value of the boat early in the module. Aside from the fatality of my rat catcher we secured the boat and made our way. We didn't really need much prodding as we were quickly discovering that traveling by water was much safer then by road, recent fatalities not withstanding. Since we very, very poor we quickly grasped the principals of trading and did a bit to get us better weapons and armor. I think at this point I was playing (temporarily) Johann "Rowlocks" Dassbit a boatman from Shadows over Bogenhaufen (he may have been Pete's character who was showing up less and less) whom we had along as an NPC. Unlike the previous AD&D games my luck was none-to-good in WFRP. On the death of my rat catcher I played a bunch of the NPCs until I got assigned an outlaw (see below). Not sure why I wasn't allowed to roll a new character so I bounced from NPC to NPC.

We made it through all of the early encounters without too much trouble: the Cult of the Purple Hand (I don't recall who looked like Kastor Lieberung), Wisebruck, the signal tower, Kemperbad and the Barren Hills). The signal tower was great fun and it felt very spooky and old as we poked around it. The fight with the skeletons and the skaven in the Barren Hills went too well for us: it made us overconfident going into Castle Wittgenstein proper.

The GM did a great job utilizing the numerous NPCs in the series especially when character deaths happened which was often. As noted above my character was dead for several weeks of real time and I wanted a more combat oriented character. We werediscovering that some character classes were better then others in WFRP. So the GM gave me Hild Eysenck, an Outlaw (renamed and gender flipped to male) version of Hilda Eysenck to run from the module. It was a smart move as we
needed more warrior types. He was a bit of wildcard, but helped us get through the brutal exploration of Castle Wittgenstein. Even the lower dungeons were a grind from my recollection and looking over the module. Again, we were not that high in terms of powered up characters and very of us were actual warrior classes which are a must in WFRP.

The town of Wittgendorf was fun, well at least looking back on it. Fortunately I wasn't the one that looked at the foul spider baby to gain Insanity Points. I think we did start a fight at the pale lady encounter and slew some of the guards as Lady Margritte rode off. Additionally we did find the warp blade in the ruined Temple of Sigmar. I don't recall who carried it, but it did help immensely in the fight(s) in the castle later on. We rummaged around the town only briefly after fighting the guards and did not encounter Jean Rouaaeaux or his brew house and horror filled basement.

Playing the part of my new character I led the party to Sigrid the outlaw chief. In short order we agreed to explore the secret way in (Under the castle/ areas #1-11). We did assault the guards at area 8 and secure out boat again. Why we didn't pilot it out and leave I'll never know ;) as it were we took the stairs that ended up in the ruins of the Outer Baily amongst the mutated beggars. Since we were fairly stealthy and had not fought any guards other then the ones by the river gate the alarm had not been raised. Through carefully picking our way we made it all the way to inner areas where we encountered  the chaos warrior Ulfhednar the Destroyer (Jeff also used the mini for his BBEG in THE CAMPAIGN) who put a hurting on us. (he was not in his guest room so we encountered him much closer to the entrance). My memory is hazy, but after fighting him we hightailed it back to outlaw camp. Somehow we encouraged them enough to assault the castle with us heading back through the secret entrance and creating diversions.

I don't recall us adventuring much after this. I'm not entirely sure we made it to the end to confront Lady Margritte and her monster. Reading through the module many years later as a GM I  felt let down by the Frankenstein rip-off of the ending. If I ran it again I'd change the ending to something less cliched. As it was the only time I GMed it the party never got close to area 61-62.

We did not play much more of  the Enemy Within proper as around this time we started to play more Warhammer Fantasy Battle as it took less time, plus we we're all were starting to drive and serious girlfriends beckoned. I don't recall us playing much of Power Behind the Throne. I know for a fact we did not play Something Rotten in Kislev or the lukewarm at best Empire in Flames ( I have it but don't think I'd ever use it as is*)  In the end it was fun and I have fond memories of Death on the Riek. Years later I ran my current gaming group through it and had fun but they were much, much more wary then my original group.

Some random thoughts:
  • * Much like Q1- Queen of the Demonweb Pits at the end of the GDQ series
    it feels stilted, as in not part of the overall flow of the modules. Q1
    needed a much better ending and in my opinion was done better and more
    in character here. So fans banded together and produced Empire at War (I've not read through the whole thing yet so I can't vouch for its quality). 

  • Death on the Reik is regarded as one of the best RPG modules of any system and I'm not going to disagree. It was fantastic to adventure in and I loved every minute of it, PC death and all, well aside from the in my opinion tepid ending

  • Another thing that I always remember is the spooky weirdness of Castle Von Wittgenstein. The maps were uber-cool and the atmosphere dark and grim with mutants living in the courtyard! The graphic/design cartography was always top notch in WFRP products but Death on the Reik was perhaps at the pinnacle.

  • When I've GMed Warhammer the players were curiously reluctant to explore more of the castle or were much more cautious... I wonder why that is????

  • The River Life of the Empire section is fantastic. It really is full of very useful information for a campaign set in the Empire. Couple this with pages 4-38 of Shadows over Bogenhaufen and you have more then enough material for a Empire based campaign. 
In closing I give Death on the Reik a 9 out of 10, it's just that good. Its also certainly the best out of the Power Behind the Throne modules with the last two, Something Rotten in Kislev and the lukewarm Empire in Flames were mediocre at best... If you are lucky enough to play it you wont be disappointed.


  1. Forgive the nitpick, but the cover illustration is by Ian Miller, not John Blanche.

  2. Nope, nothing to forgive- as noted corrected. Thanks for pointing it out.