Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set Remixed
A few months ago I finally got to GM some sessions of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (a.k.a. “WFRP”), using the 4th edition’s wonderful Starter Set. Given that I’ve been GMing for more than 25 years, you could say I’m a bit late to the grim and perilous party… let’s go through a quick review of it, and the I’ll detail how I changed the starter adventure to be better suited to seasoned gamers.
Welcome to Ubersreik
First: I loved it. The world is rich and full of adventure opportunities and the illustrations are gorgeous. The Ubersreik town guide has dozens of adventure seeds and interesting NPCs on every page spread, and it’s a delight to read. It was also a very good introduction to the setting.
The career system is a fun riff on the tired class system, and everybody enjoyed doing the fully random character creation using the numerous tables in the Core Rulebook. As far as I’m concerned, a full random life path generation is a much more fun way to justify rolling for stats instead of buying them from points. The only little disappointment came from the absence of a random gender table, but that is easily fixed.
The rest of the character creation process was a bit complicated and required re-reading some paragraphs closely. In some cases, like magic users, it actually required me going online to ask a few questions. Thankfully, the people from the Rat-Catchers’ Discord server were helpful and quick to respond.
I appreciated how the character sheet lets players keep track of a lot of numbers, such as Advances, without looking intimidating. Some games lose information because they don’t tie their character sheet closely enough to their system – instead, they adopt a generic looking character sheet with a thin layer of genre-appropriate graphic design on top. But WFRP character sheets definitely take the shape of the system.
The Starter Set does a great job of introducing the rules as we go, and reminded me of the Call of Cthulhu Starter Set who also does that (but goes the extra mile of also letting you create a new character on the way, too). I really like some of the system tricks that WFRP uses, like doubles-for-criticals and reversed numbers for location. I now see how some other D100 games got similar tricks, although I’d have to look into various editions of various games to really track down who did what.
During play, we skipped the Advantage rules, which were too much for me to keep track of through a VTT, especially since it was one of the first games we played virtually. It would have been a lot easier for me to manage at a real table, probably by throwing tokens to players as we went through their actions, with each token worth +10%. Now that I’m more comfortable with VTTs, I may be able to handle it.
Remixing the Rounds
The only problem was that the Starter Set is, understandably, geared towards newcomers to both WFRP and RPGs. While we were the former, we were definitely not the latter, and the very simple and linear plot of “Making The Rounds” (the starter adventure) was, well, too simple and linear for my tastes… so I remixed it a little.
The following contains spoilers for the WFRP Starter Set adventure, obviously. Also, if you haven’t read that adventure yet, not much of it will make sense!
Main Adventure Structure
I kept the overall same adventure structure:
- The PCs meet at the market, a riot erupts, they witness the murder of one of the performers on stage, and they potentially save a young noble from being kidnapped by thugs.
- They get arrested along with half the crowd there, but they get sentenced to the mines. At the last second, a lawyer shows up and commutes their sentence to City Watch service.
- They go through various scenes and events as part of the City Watch, realizing how crooked and corrupt Ubersreik is.
However, I changed or developed a few things, offering various threads for the players to follow:
- The conspiracy behind the fire-breather performer’s murder.
- The story behind the young noble’s attempted abduction.
- The reason behind the PCs’ sentencing.
Cultists and Murders
When I saw that there are such things as cults and corrupting magic that gives you tentacles, my old Call of Cthulhu reflexes kicked in and I figured I would feature some of these guys a bit more prominently in the adventure.
In my version, Fosten gets killed by the Shifting Grasp for having seen some of their agents on the docks the night before. When he realized the possible leak, Elmeric Herzog hired Einauge Spaltmann in the morning to carry out the sentence as soon as possible. Few members of the cult would have been able to do it themselves, given all their deformities, and Herzog liked the idea of having an intermediary anyway.
The riot at the market was still engineered by Gurkenfeld, but in my version he is doing it himself. The players have a chance to see him inciting people to throw vegetables at the Cavalcade performers, although the players wouldn’t know who he is at the time. It wasn’t too hard for Gurkenfeld, since the crowd was already in a mood after Fosten’s lackluster performance, distracted as he was given what he witnessed the previous night. If the PCs interviewed the surviving Cavalcade members, they would have indeed mentioned that Fosten looked shaken when he came back that night from drinking with friends.
For Einauge, the riot was just a “lucky” coincidence… he was looking for a way to kill Fosten as soon as he got backstage, but when the riot erupted, he took his chance and ran away.
Debts and Kidnappings
In the adventure as written, the attempted kidnapping of Jocelin Karstadt is just a random act of violence. I added a bit of backstory there that ended up taking a bigger role than I thought.
I made up a new member of the Karstadt family called Ludolf Karstadt. This guy has huge gambling debts with the Crosses, to the point that he started looking for “creative” way to settle them. One of his brilliant ideas was to get his little cousin kidnapped, ask for a ransom, and use that to pay the Crosses. He hired a small group of thugs called the Schiffaer Gang to execute this plan but, of course, the PCs prevented it.
When going through the early scenes of the adventure, the players actually get to meet with Ludolf Karstadt when they break up a brawl at the Crooked Hammer. Ludolf is a regular of the illegal gaming den in the backroom, where he keeps accumulating more debt. When one of my players recognized, from his clothing and general well groomed appearance, that he was a member of some local noble family, he offered to usher him through the back door and avoid further being seen here. My player then escorted Ludolf to safety while the others dealt with the bar bawl. After this, Ludolf and the players had an “understanding” and they got him to introduce them to Hellin Karstadt-Stampf, who became the shadowy patron of the party. This was of course quite histerical since Hellin was the one who manipulated the trials in the first place to get the PCs into the Watch!
After rolling characters randomly, we realized that most of them could actually be working together in various capacities for a local noble family. I picked Graustadt for them, since it’s a faction that is allied with Jungfreuds. While the Jungfreuds have been kicked out of Ubersreik by the Emperor’s forces, the Graustadts are navigating a complex web of alliances to stay alive. The PCs were in town to call in a number of favours, deliver messages, gather information, etc. They were at the market only to take a break from their stressful and packed schedule.
The reason it didn’t go well is that the Aschaffenbergs are maneuvering to eliminate any friends the Jungfreuds may have in the city. Brynich gave clear orders to that effect, and the PCs were caught in the net. Any person helping the Jungfreuds or the Graustadts is to be eliminated.
As the PCs were rotting in prison, they caught a glimpse of a lawyer whispering “testimony advice” into the ears of all the other accused. This lawyer is Walter Stangl, a lawyer with low morals who often works for the Aschaffenbergs. He was to make sure everybody would point to the PCs as the cause of the riot in order to have them shipped out to the mines. Brynich only had to throw a few coins away to orchestrate this.
Later, the PCs did a bit of investigation into this, asking Osanna about that other lawyer, interviewing a couple of the people who got paid off, and eventually breaking into Walter’s office. They slapped him a bit for good measure but they realized they couldn’t really take on the Aschaffenbergs, and that they were really just pawns that were tentatively sacrificed… that is, until they allied themselves with the Karstadts. I’m sure that if we kept playing, the players may have used the Karstadts’ patronage to hit the Aschaffenbergs where it hurts.
Either way, I kept the bit where the Karstadts are the ones who paid Osanna at the last minute to save the PCs from a terrible sentence… but I added a bit of gray area there by making the players realize that Osanna could have gotten them free if she had tried harder. But the Karstadts wanted “competent” people in the City Watch in order to restore order. Their interests lie in Ubersreik becoming a free city, and they don’t want to rely on Imperial soldiers for law enforcement. The more stable Ubersreik is on its own, the better a shot they have at profiting from it becoming independent. The PCs were basically double-framed!
Other Stuff and Conclusions
Is that a lot of half-assed conspiracy stuff piled upon another? Yes it is! I actually had to keep track of all this crap, and more, with equally half-assed diagrams in my notebook.
But that’s not all, because as my players went through some of the scenes in the adventure, I gave a glimpse, each time, of all the stuff that’s happening in the city. They had some dealings with the halfling mob, and one of them even got on their payroll. While looking for Eugen’s father, they went into the Dunkelfeucht and one of the PCs almost met The Baron. They realized how much power the Dockers’ Guild has and had to make some hard choices. They joined Wahlund’s Rat Catchers on a Skaven hunt in the town sewers, and almost didn’t make it out. They found some unexpected entry into Dawihafen and made an alliance with the dwarves there. They ended up under Saint Arnold’s Chapel and found its secret inhabitant.
It was almost too easy to bring all of Ubersreik’s secrets and factions into play. I totally went too far, but it was a lot of fun. I think it’s easy because Ubersreik’s web of intrigue is made up of interesting yet mostly mundane threads, and that’s totally my jam. Often, I look at some game setting’s NPCs and adventure hooks and they’re all super important people doing super important stuff. I’m left slightly intimidated about using them in my arguably “lower power” adventures. It’s like having a Star Wars book about Jedi NPCs doing universe-shattering stuff when you only wanted to run a Mandalorian campaign. I end up having to invent a lot of stuff for what happens around the “normal” people. But WFRP is giving me exactly that: a gritty, “street-level” pile of NPCs and adventure hooks I can grab and run away with.
It’s awesome and I love it, and I can’t wait to play more in this world, which is thankfully happening very soon.