The Power Behind The Throne: My Thoughts

And so ends another chapter to the Enemy Within campaign. When I started this campaign back in February 2015, I had suspected it would take a long time to finish. Playing on a bi-weekly schedule with about 3-4 hours, sometimes but rarely 5 hours, has certainly contributed to the length of the campaign. But playing it for that long on a bi-weekly basis helps to prevent burnout and it also becomes less of a burden, not just on me, but on players trying to schedule to meet that weekly commitment.

It is still hard to imagine that this campaign will be going on its 4th year soon.

So far, this and Shadows Over Bogenhafen have been my favorite. Bogenhafen was wonderful in that everything felt ‘rural’ and homely, up until the shit hit the fan. It was an enjoyable chapter. There was a tiny bit of intrigue, but not much, certainly not on the level that PBTT is. The pacing for SOB was just right, and it was an adventure that I had, largely, ran as written in the book, with only minor changes taking place as a result of player actions and such. Of course, what made the Bogenhafen chapter enjoyable was the party, the players and their antics. It was the most fun I ever had in a campaign. I did not think anything could top it.

Power Behind The Throne dwarfs Shadows Over Bogenhafen for content. Not only is the npc roster much larger, but the scale of everything is increased tenfold. It was the chapter I was dreading the most upon the completion of Death on the Reik. I had read reviews concerning Power Behind The Throne. Most had mentioned the complexity of the campaign book, and that an experienced gm at the helm would certainly make things go smoother. Yet that did not ease my fears for running it. I went ahead and planned my hooks for the party to bite, custom hooks tailored to the party, as I felt DOTR did not provide a satisfactory way to lure the party to Middenheim, or provide motivation to do so. I was preparing myself for the big dive into city politics and intrigue…

And then the party got wiped.

Thanks Ricky! You just had to go to those witch-hunters didn’t you!

With all my plans laid to waste, and the entire party more or less wiped, it was time for new characters. Well shit.

I vowed to continue on and proceed to play Power Behind The Throne with this new party. Because of the party wipe, the difficulty of inserting new hooks for a party to get involved in the PBTT chapter would revolve around what sort of characters they made. Suffice to say, trying to incorporate a High Elf mage, two Bretonnian characters along with a Wood Elf, was not easy. I could have limited player choice and freedom, and in hindsight, I should have considered disallowing the High Elf; a mistake I would regret later. Yet I’m a stickler for not providing restrictions, as I loath them myself as a player. I usually, unless I have a good reason not to, allow players pick whatever career/race they wish. As a result of that, I made the task of creating motivations and hooks for each character to get involve in the intrigue and adventure all the more difficult.

Solely because of the High Elf, did I create a hook revolving around the Guild of Mages, which in turn was used to hook everyone else into the adventure. This created a domino effect for which I had to write up and connect the dotted lines. It also increased the roster of npcs. Looking back on it now, I would have done some stuff differently. I would have definitely not allowed a High Elf mage, I reckon, which would allow me to skip the Guild of Mages arc altogether. I think the guild is the only real regret I have, but I managed to close the book on that early on in the adventure, allowing for the pacing to pick back up.

And pacing is everything in PBTT. The campaign book gives precisely a week for the party to get ahead of the conspiracy that is unfolding in the city. One of the events that happened during our play of PBTT that adversely affected pace, was the trial of Ser Gado and Galdrea. I had never expected a High Elf apprentice mage to abuse his magic, just to cheat on a festival duel! He got caught, and Gado got dragged down with him. This resulted in a session devoted to doing the trial, which was a lot of fun. Another case of a PC’s crazy antics leading to hilarious opportunities for the GM to play with. However, this greatly effected the pace of the whole chapter. The trial saw Ser Gado mention the Purple Hand, right in front of Law Lord Karl Wasmeier! I had the task of deciding what Wasmeier, being the head of the Purple Hand would do in this situation. Gado was cleared of all charges, if barely, based on a point system I had devised. Wasmeier saw him as a potential threat, but declaring him guilty had its own problems. The other two judges were against him; Wasmeier could not use his influence on Reiner Ehrlich, for Reiner trusted Wasmeier and was not aware it was him who arranged for the kidnapping of his niece. Joachim Hoflich could be persuaded, but the man was expensive to bribe, and Wasmeier did not trust him regardless. In the end, he played ball, and opted to agree to the dismissal of all charges. He was confident that he could deal with any trouble that would come his way…

But the Purple Hand were now aware. And now that the party were being watched the pacing picked up. There was a greater sense of urgency, and there was less participating in the festival events, which is an unfortunate side-effect of the party watching over their shoulder every time.

Vanilla Plot vs New Plot

Whenever I do any campaign, I always try to tailor it to the characters, and make room for side-adventures to surface connecting those players. IE; Gerhard Kramer dealing with a corrupt bailiff, whose boss was loosely affiliated with the Purple Hand, and other nasty stuff. Or Jurgen Noffein, getting involved because his mentor and teacher was murdered by the Purple Hand. The campaign book makes no allowances for such stuff, so it is up to the GM to provide those opportunities.

Yet one of the biggest changes I implemented in the PBTT was the Purple Hand’s overall ambitions. Now, none of this is a spoiler since this chapter has been completed in our game. In the campaign book, as written, Karl Wasmeier devises a way to cause unrest in the city between the various factions by implementing several new tax laws. It is these tax laws that the party are meant to investigate, to get drawn in and hopefully, in theory, get invested. Now, this is perhaps the biggest criticism I had for the campaign in that it greatly assumed the party would be interested in such a thing. Gerhard Kramer, the Burgher in the party, perhaps would be, and indeed was. But the rest? A knight errant? A bounty hunter? What would be their motivation? Why should they care what the Graf does in his own city. This is especially true if the party are made up of foreigners not from Middenland. There is little to no incentive to get invested. There needs to be something to bite. I managed to work around this by giving each player something to chew on. Gerhard was ousted from his job by corrupt officials, one of whom had affiliations with the Purple Hand. Jurgen wanted revenge against those who murdered his mentor and teacher, again Purple Hand. Gado sought to find his sister, again Purple Hand. Michel Bastide hunted Alric Eisenhower, a character from the previous chapter. Again, he was working with the Purple Hand now.

I made no changes however concerning the tax laws. I felt they worked just fine as they did in the book. Only change I made was that I put it in the background, instead of it serving as the catalyst to draw in the party.

Another change, and perhaps the biggest, upping the ambition of Karl Wasmeier, and by extension, the Purple Hand. Originally, as written in the book, Karl Wasmeier is plotting to replace the Graf with a doppelganger. Since the old party had a part in destroying the Wittgensteins in the previous chapter, who were making doppelgangers using a combination of surgery, warpstone  and hypnotism, I decided that Wasmeier was not going to get his precious doppelganger from the Wittgensteins. His plans changed. And he looked towards the Graf’s youngest son and heir apparent, Stefan Todbringer. Someone who he could control, as Stefan was suffering from many mental afflictions.

Yet Wasmeier did not stop there. He had known for awhile now that the Grand Theogonist Volkmar the Grim was soon to be arriving in the city to engage in high level talks with the Ar-Ulric concerning the current tension between the two cults, brought about by the recent mutant edict issued by the emperor. Originally inspired by the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, I had decided that the original ambition of the Purple Hand in PBTT needed to be turned up a notch. Thus, my intention was for Wasmeier to conspire to murder both the Ar-Ulric and the Grand Theogonist with copious amounts of gunpowder in an effort to cause a religious civil war. Even if he didn’t kill both of them, Wasmeier was betting on at least one of them dying, and hoping that the two sides would blame each other for what happened.

Wolf Lord Brunner thus essentially became Guy Fawkes; the revolutionary extremist, and in addition to that, opened up an avenue for a PC (Jurgen, Ulric priest) to engage with and to potentially learn about the plot. Brunner was Guy Fawkes, and Wasmeier was his mysterious benefactor who could put him on top to achieve his ambitions. I felt it allowed for a greater sense of urgency and was far more dramatic and interesting than just… taxes. Or doppelgangers. Again.

Now that the chapter has finished, and the feedback that I got for the campaign has been brilliant, I’m very pleased with how it all turned out. A rocky start perhaps, but definitely a great finish.

 

Power Behind The Throne was a great campaign, but different groups can have different results depending on how its run, party composition and other factors at play. Overall though, it has its own flaws but it is a great ambitious campaign, one that is very unique to warhammer with themes that I can’t see working in other rulesets.

Now, I look forward to the next chapter… I will likely be skipping Something Rotten In Kislev, and going straight to Empire In Flames, although likely to be playing several side-plots before the final chapter.

 

 

 

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