Running Death on the Reik (WFRP)
Death on the Reik is possibly one of the best adventures for a GM to run in WFRP. It covers almost the entire length of the Reik. It has a wealth of background for players to get their teeth into. Not to mention a plot line that slowly draws the PC towards the courtly intrigue in Middenheim (and Power Behind the Throne). For me its has provided several months of GMing fun, and has given our group a whole number of fantastic memories – and nightmares. Like the article I did on running Shadows over Bogenhafen, I thought it might be a good idea to write something similar for Death on the Reik (sometimes abbreviated to DotR).
Also I heartily recommend creating a campaign journal for your players like I did. In it are session summaries, the handouts, and maps.
Be warned, spoilers are ahead! If you’re planning to participate in it as a player, look away now!
Death on the Reik – Tone
For my players, their boat became their home, very much like the Serenity. Named the Queen of the Reik (captained by the Elf, Priscilla). Yeah, I know – I kinda encouraged them to name it!. Essentially it became about the group staying ahead of things – the authorities, the cults, and the “game” (or plot). I tried to convey a sense of history and time to the group. Much of the plot relies on historical events.
When they come to Wittgendorf, it became one of brooding horror and corruption. Wittgendorf is the best part in Death on The Reik. I’d already implied some sort of inbreeding, with possible incest between Lady Magritte and her brother. In Nuln the PCs learned both were thrown out of a Nuln university. The whole village is corrupt and the players freaked out.
Wanted in both Altdorf and Bogenhafen (for murder and arson – possibly robbery, too) the group were understandably chary about revisiting those locations, so I tried to keep the game away from those areas.
Because of the scale of Death on the Reik, you easily break down the main plot into small pieces, and even insert some side quests or other adventures. For example I was able to insert the adventure “A Rough Night at the Three Feathers” adventure from the Restless Dead. This also gave the PCs a chance to make friends with a Nuln noble, Gravin Maria-Ulrike von Liebovitz, the niece of the Countess of Nuln. These little trips helped to make the adventure go from A to B a little better, plus it didn’t feel like the players were being rail-roaded.
It might also pay for you to have some ready-made cargo and prices for each adventure location – it’ll save you some time. My players bothered with cargo for a while. There’s an in-game joke that the “Bretonnian Brandy” sold in Nuln as a result of the PCs re-labelling and selling on some Marienburger brandy. However, they didn’t bother with cargo much, but you may want to use it to add some flavour – particularly if the group wants to make some cash.
Plot breakdown & “Modding” Death on the Reik
Death on the Reik is very much a free-wheeling adventure. It took several months of play. I added in some side-quests, and it paid to plan ahead. However, there are some parts that I’d change. Note – spoilers!
In the first Chapter, I’d replace the mutants with Beastmen. They are more of a challenge. I also added the fact that they wore a red crown sigil. They appeared to be looking for Kastor Lieberung and Ernst Heidlman. This info was obtained from Renata. The boat’s crew had been tortured while she hid. Later she recognises Heidelmann when he passes the group on a coach leaving Altdorf. If the players don’t choose to take the boat, there’s always the Emperor Luitpold.
In Weissbruck, there’s a part where the PCs may or may not want to visit Elvyra Kleinestun. She’s the Pharmacist they met in Shadows Over Bogenhafen. Let the PCs make their own decision about whether to rescue her. If the PCs do find the Red Barn, add some armed mercs (possibly sent by Hollzauber) arriving to collect Elvyra. It’ll be more of a challenge. You could also have a side-quest as they PCs hunt down Hollzauber, the Demonologist. I also did a follow-up to Legacy of Praag.
Altdorf was largely avoided by the group, accused as they were of murder there. Aside from Renata spotting Heidelmann there, not much of note happened. Adolphus Kuftos put in a brief appearance but the group didn’t face him directly.
Dagmar’s Tower and the signalling device was a bit of a cockup on my part. The Ghoul should be killing the dwarves, not making them ill. Also, the zombies in the laboratory weren’t much of a challenge (why hasn’t the Ghoul eaten them?). I’d replace them with a wraith, more ghouls, or some kind of clockwork horror (perhaps a simulcra of some kind). Also, let your Players find the hidden room – otherwise they’ll traipse back and forth to the Devil’s Bowl. It’s an unnecessary plot device.
Delberz was where the players felt safest. They stayed with Heironymus Blitzen and met The Merry Band (see below). They pretty much started the Enemy Within campaign there originally, so it made sense. They also left their horses stabled there, so they could take the boat up and down the Reik. Remember, horses on a boat will make a mess! 🙂
Nuln is mentioned nowhere in Death on the Reik, but the PCs may want to do some research there. I played Nuln as very much a sort of Oxford-like town. Lots of university buildings, drunken students, silly traditions, factions/fraternities etc. It also became a safe place for the PCs, and gave them a chance to hobnob with the Nuln Nobility (like Gravin Maria Ulrike). I threw in a party or two hosted by the Countess Emmanuelle. I ran the adventure Eureka to add some extra craziness – The Restless Dead book has some good incidental adventures.
Grissenwald was very much a run-down mining town. It also provided a huge amount of entertainment when the Dwarves of Khazid Slumbol decide to regain their pride (with the PCs help) and kick Goblin arse. It pretty much became a grudge match between the two races and the PCs got caught up in the middle! Don’t forget to overplay the cross-dressing goblin Chieftain too.
Kemperbad was very much a town the group passed through. Not much happened there although Kuftos, now a witch-hunter, caught up with the PCs. This led to a dockside confrontation between the PCs and a large group of goons, plus Kuftos. In their journey along the Reik, the PCs learned of a Sigmarite “Inquisition”, known as the Hammers of Sigmar. Kuftos was a member but had gone rogue.
Unterbaum, for some reason, spooked my players. Everyone was smiling and happy and willing to answer any questions. Perhaps too friendly. Corrobeth the Druid was quite happy to lead the PCs to the Devil’s Bowl (along with the Merry Band). When the group left Unterbaum, and tried to descend the lock gates, both lock-keepers had been killed by Etelka Herzen and her followers. She attacked the group with fireball and smash spells leading to a decision by the Captain of the Queen of the Reik to ram their way down. Cue screaming mercenaries and very much a Pirates of the Caribbean style sequence… all the way down.
The Barren Hills was very much about raising the level of suspense. The PCs knew they were being followed by the Skaven at this point. They still managed to trap themselves in the cave though. Let Crot make his threats from outside, possibly letting the group watch him torture Corrobeth. Don’t let on how many Skaven there are, just emphasis their eyes glittering in the dark… To really freak the PCs out, the skeletons attack them when they least expect it. You could even have a Skaven wizard turn up to really inconvenience them.
Wittgendorf needs no improvement. Its a place of filth, corruption, and cannibalism. For me it was the highlight of Death on the Reik. The PCs got into a fight in the pub, naturally. I’d increase the W score of the guards, as well as their numbers. Rousseaux really scared the PCs, especially when he invited the group to join he and Lady Magritte for dinner. The group decided “It’s a trap!” and legged it before the guards and Pale Lady turned up. They killed Rousseaux, and discovered the cellar and its contents. Try and keep Magritte out of bow range ‘cos you know what PCs are like. If I’d thought about it, I’d have had the group besieged in the Inn as the starved Ghoulish Villagers attack. If the players aren’t keeping a low profile, they’ll be noticed so a bunch of guards may turn up. Either way, the boat needs to be seized for the PCs to have a reason to get inside. After a confrontation with the guards, Hilda can appear to lead them through the woods to the outlaws.
Storming the Castle
The caves beneath the Castle are possibly a waste of time if your PCs are planning on Storming the Castle (see below). They may decide a frontal assault is the best. Let them try. Remember Castle Wittgenstein is a bloody CASTLE. With lots of guards. Unless they come up with a really clever plan, their best option is to sneak in, possibly with the outlaws help.
Scouting the caves
Death on the Reik doesn’t go into much detail about why the Outlaws haven’t killed Brutagh and reconnoitred the caves already. I’d make sure that its made clear that the caves are in Beastman territory, so the Outlaws have avoided it after losing some of their number. A small group of capable warriors could sneak past the Beastmen, however. You could easily have the PCs sneak commando-style through Beastman territory, taking out sentries. That could be a session in itself.
Once inside the caves, expand them out. There’s lot of creepy stuff you can pull on players – slimy walls, sucker marks on the wall, mould, spores that send the character mad, weird mushrooms that squelch unpleasantly underfoot. Brutagh himself should be more of a scuttling horror than a mutant, and barely seen. You could turn him into a Chaos Spawn if you’ve got Realm of Chaos. He’s the one that tries to kill a party member when they wander off or get split from the group, or tries to quietly remove the last PC in line. For added horror, let the PCs find his “feeding ground” full of half-eaten corpses (maybe just the livers have been eaten). Run riot.
Staging the attack
Try and keep the attack narrative. There’s a temptation as GM to describe every single facet of the battle. The outlaws are there largely to provide a distraction to allow the PCs to get inside, so make it clear that the outlaws will only be able to keep the guards busy for a while. The outlaws can’t sustain a siege. All the while the storm is building up. You may want to stress the strange tension in the air, as if the world is holding its breath as the players attack. At the very least it’ll get ’em moving.
I marked on a copy of the castle map where each guard was in the event of an alert, or on active duty. You may also want to make a copy and split the map up into sections so players can see where they are. It’s a lot more difficult to run than a dungeon bash on this scale, so your players may need some sort of visual guide.
The Inner Keep
Oh, my. What wonders or horrors lie within? Your PCs may be old school in that they check every SINGLE. DAMN. CUPBOARD. Not a problem. Death on the Reik has some truly weird rooms in Castle Wittgenstein. The Chapel (and its mighty organ!), aviary, and the charnel pit are great to freak out your PCs. It’s important to remember that in WFRP, players may not stop to search each single room. It’s up to you as GM – if you’re enjoying it, let them carry on. If you want to get them going, point out to the most observant PC that lightning is repeatedly striking kites flying above the main tower. In regards to Krakatz and Ulfhednar, they’re more likely to be with Lady Magritte than in their rooms (see below). If they fight the Daemonette, make sure you stress her weird appearance and allure, and give her a snake-like grace to her attacks and defences, e.g contorting backwards to avoid a strike.
As a GM, I messed up the confrontation between the PCs and Lady Magritte (and her monster). It’s far too easy, especially given it is the epic final battle such as it is. First of all, beef up the opposition. Ulfhednar and Crakatz will be present along with a small horde of undead zombies or skeletons (two per PC). Make Lady Magritte a Level 3 Necromancer, if you’re keeping Ulfhednar as the original NPC stats list. Give her a few more Battle Magic spells too. The Monster should regenerate non-magical wounds, which should be something of a surprise (or worse if the party don’ t have any magical weaponry! Not uncommon in WFRP), but it is subject to fear of fire-wielding PCs.
The Skaven have got the Warpstone, and you players are probably calling them “Rat Bastards!”. Perfectly okay for the PCs to follow them of course, deeper into the rock.If the PCs have waltzed through the last battle, the’ll face a number of Skaven (4-6, plus a L2 Wizard). Just as the PCs win the explosions start. At this point pull out your whole “collapsing building” action movie bag of tricks to get the PCs moving. Leaping across a crevasse, dodging falling rocks, cave-ins etc. Getting the boat out through the gate as huge rocks slam down in to the water soaking the PCs, the huge boulder that crashes down inches above the PCs only to stop. If you’ve had enough of the PCs messing about on boats they have to jump into the river from a great height as Castle Wittgenstein collapses upon itself (burying their boat).
NPCs in Death on the Reik
Have an NPC for every eventuality. Sooner or later, the groups are going to want to change careers or find a tutor. Or a doctor. I’ve given nearly all my NPCs their own voices as such, often humorously describing them too. There were some NPCs I came up with that only featured in one game, others that featured more – the majority are listed here. I tried deliberately to make them stand out and have some quirks, as the WFRP setting is definitely one that has odd characters. If you can definitely try and give them distinctive voices or mannerisms – perhaps basing it upon actual people or characters.
The Skaven featuring in the adventure are best played as creepy sneaks. They’re out there, but you don’t know where. They should always be at the back of the PCs minds. They appeared briefly in the Heart of Chaos too. There they set an ambush for the PCs but they failed to take the bait. In the wilds the PCs are followed by a Clan Eshin scout. They never see them though until the Barren Hills and the finale. Throughout the campaign they are “urban legend”.
Etelka didn’t feature much in my game. She and Heidelmann attacked the group while they are descending the locks at Unterbaum. She nearly destroyed the Queen of the Reik with a smash spell. I decided that the players would often encounter her scent or evidence of her passing through in some locations like Grissenwald or Kemperbad. I plan to use her as an NPC in Power Behind the Throne.
Lady Magritte should creep the players out. She has an unhealthy relationship with her brother, and is possibly a necrophiliac. At least that’s the way to play her. She’s cold, calculating and should ideally fall from a high place in the final battle 😉 – keep her out of bow range until then!
There’s two notable cults of Tzeentch that feature in Death on the Reik, the Purple Hand and the Red Crown. The Purple Hand are far more insidious and prefer to keep a low profile while infiltrating the higher levels of power. The PC who’d originally resembled Kastor Lieberung (from Mistaken Identity) had since left the group, but that didn’t stop the PCs being threatened by cult members as known associates (and were often believed to be cult members themselves, leading to some very funny moments where the cultists couldn’t figure out why they weren’t being responded to in kind). Aside from the brief mention in the adventure the Red Crown has little to do, with the exception of Herzen and Heidelmann. I changed them to be actively recruiting Beastmen and mutants to their cause. When you know how the Enemy Within continues it makes sense. A lot of the Beastmen were wearing the “red crown” mark making my players very nervous.
Mercenary Companies are often a fun idea as many career exits lead towards mercenaries or their officers. With this in mind I created The Merry Band, based out of Delberz. Essentially it gave my players some NPCs to interact with, plus some possible training avenues. As well as this it provided some comic relief during the lock gate episode and talking about ” Ze Skaven”. I’d based the Sergeant’s character (and voice) on Jason Statham in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
Hieronymous Blitzen, wizard of Delberz was based upon Carl Jung, along with a terrible Austrian accent on my part. His apprentice, Hans-Peter Schiller I played as a creepy guy who Blitzen keeps an eye on. Blitzen was very much a mentor of the PCs, despite none of them being wizards or apprentices.
I decided to alter Ulfhednar and Krakatz from their original stats. Instead of a boring Chaos Warrior, Ulfhednar became the Champion of Chaos he was supposed to be. He had wings and acquired a Daemon weapon since the PCs saw him in Heart of Chaos. Although he wasn’t involved in the big fight at the end, the PCs were polite and respectful and he left them alone, possibly as a courtesy. If you intend to use him as an opponent in Death on the Reik, give him a Chaos weapon instead, see Realm of Chaos for info. Krakatz should probably have minor hero stats for a Beastman. At some points I’ll put his stats up 🙂
Summary – Death on The Reik
Death on the Reik will provide you with a lot of enjoyment as GM, and should easily propel your PCs into Advanced careers. If you’ve run multiple side adventures you may want to reduce the XPs given at the end of DotR.