Realm of the Ice Queen is the last regional sourcebook published for the 2nd edition Warhammer Fantasy game line, and it details the realm of Kislev (the faux-Russia of Warhammer’s Old World). It’s generally a quality book, but is somewhat hampered by its small page count – all too many things are left with just a passing mention, if that. That material that does exist, however, is good.
Kislev is very much defined by two cultures: the original Ungol, and the later invading Gospodars. While united as a realm, under the “Ice Queen” Tzarina Katarin, the two cultures have very different backgrounds which is a huge source of internal tension. Even the Tzarina, who would love to impose her (Gospodar) law on the whole realm, must make allowances for the more “tribal” Ungol laws. Gospodars, being largely “townsfolk”, have a set of laws which largely resemble the ones in Empire – though tweaked to give the Tzarina absolute say about the form and the practice of law. Ungol culture, on the other hand, has very different concepts of right and wrong, which centers on communal responsibility for crimes. If someone commits a crime, all members of his/her family and all relatives are considered equally guilty. So it’s quite acceptable to sentence an innocent relative to death for a serious crime committed by another family member. This, naturally enough, makes for fascinating social structures, and is also ripe for conflict with the more “civilized” Gospodar laws. Put the PCs in the middle of this mess, have them commit a “minor” crime (in their view), and watch the fireworks.
The book is structured in a fairly traditional way: we get a section on history, another on laws, another on religion, and so forth. There’s also a section on the Ice Witches and their form of magic, quite unlike the Bretonnia sourcebook which frustratingly left the Grail Damsels and their magic (if any) totally unspecified. The three major cities are described, though with not that much detail. The whole thing wraps up with an adventure, which is quite decent but is a bit of a missed opportunity: it takes place mostly in the wilderness and skips most of the cool social shenanigans possible in Kislev.
Since this is the most official detail we have of Kislev to date, it’s definitely better than nothing. The writing is quite engaging and there are lots of amusing and interesting details to be had here. The main negative is the small page count; Kislev would have provided opportunity for much more material.
Before this book, the information available on the gods of the Warhammer world (excepting the Chaos gods) has been pretty sparse. The core book had some basic details. but nowhere enough to give interesting detail to players wanting to play priests. Like the earlier “Tome of Sorcery” (which expanded the magic orders) and “Tome of Corruption” (which expanded the Chaos cults and gods), Tome of Salvation aims to fill in the missing bits for the “normal” gods of the Old World. Also like those earlier tomes, it succeeds wonderfully; this is a near-essential resource for Warhammer priestly types.
The book gives you pretty much everything you’d expect or need. You get detailed descriptions of the internals of the various cults (i.e. churches of the various gods), and there are also long sections on things like normal daily life as a priest, why extremist cults form and how they work, the religious holiday calendar, the life of a holy warrior or an inquisitor… in short, a ton of stuff. Since religion and daily life is so intertwined in the Old World, much of this is also nice background color for non-priest characters (who also typically believe in some god) and for the GM in making his/her world come alive. Things like religious holidays are wonderful things to throw into the mix on a regular basis, especially since they are far from standardized. The PCs might walk into a small village busy with yet another religious festival… and only slowly come to realize that it’s no religion they are familiar with. Together with the fact that a god might be worshiped in very different ways depending on where you are, this makes for great plot material and general “world color”.
Like the previous “Tome” books, this is one of the important books in the game line. Great work from the authors.
Night’s Dark Masters has the subtitle “A Guide to Vampires”… and that’s exactly what the book is. It contains the detailed history of vampires (and related creatures) in the Warhammer world, and has stats for all the various flavors of fiends. I like the approach Warhammer has taken to vampirism; they have a quite specific origin story, though one which is largely unknown to non-vampires and which is shrouded in the mists of time. Instead of one predictable type of vampires, they are separated into different clans (shades of Vampire: the Masquerade here) which are very different from each other. This means that the GM can use vampires as antagonists while keeping the players (and the PCs) guessing about what exactly it is that they are facing. Some are vulnerable to the “traditional” things (sunlight, garlic, crossing water, etc), many are not.
The origin story is interesting, and the clans themselves are also interestingly varied, covering all the bases from the classic “Dracula” type down to a much more bestial Nosferatu-wannabe. As such, vampires make great major antagonists – they are powerful (but have major weaknesses), they are very intelligent, they generally love to manipulate events from the shadows. Great “evil mastermind” material. The book also discusses having vampires as PCs and provides some guidelines for doing it, starting with “it’s not a very good idea”. Unless you are running an all-vampire game, integrating a vampire with a more normal group will be difficult.
If you intend to use vampires in your Warhammer game (as a GM), you’ll want to read this book. It’s well-written and contains a ton of information and story ideas about the subject.
Lure of the Liche Lord is loosely connected to the earlier Renegade Crowns book, which presented a toolkit for populating the Border Princes region. Here, we get an example campaign setting (in the Border Princes), focused on the ambitions of a certain long-dead (but restless) ancient ruler. A number of other (living) NPCs and kingdoms are also detailed, along with their political motivations, relations with each other, and such. It’s a complete region overview, which can be used to run a general freeform Warhammer campaign if desired. One thing I especially enjoyed here is the main “antagonist” NPC, who both is and isn’t an “undead horror”. Yes, he is undead and yes, he is a threat and arguably a horror; however, he is not portrayed as your typical “arrrrr, I hate all living things!” creature. He has fairly detailed backstory, and his motivations are a lot more complex than what is typical for this type of “undead villain” in most adventures. So, points for that.
The main focus and star of the show is, however, the tomb of the titular Liche Lord, which gets about two-thirds of the page count. In a nutshell, this is Warhammer’s version of the D&D “Tomb of Horrors”. Now, before you run away screaming, I have to say that this one makes a lot more sense, and the traps aren’t quite as ridiculous. There is a reason why this tomb is built like it is. It’s a huge affair and very nicely detailed, tomb raiding this one should be a lot of fun. But…
…the GM needs to be aware that this thing is deadly. Seriously deadly. Especially when you consider Warhammer’s ruleset, which is a lot more “gritty” than D&D and provides less provisions for the PCs to bounce back from “just a little case of death”. If I were to run this, I would tone down the number of traps a bit, I just don’t see any PC party surviving this. Depends on the party, of course… having an academic along with actual knowledge of old Khemri customs and beliefs will increase survival odds significantly. In any case, this is a death trap dungeon. It’s a pretty good one, and has a reason to exist, but it’s still full of death traps. A total party kill is easy, here.
I quite enjoyed this book. Even though most of the page count it dedicated to the tomb itself, the background on the region is quite enough to get a campaign going and the NPCs presented here are a nicely varied bunch; it seems like an interesting sandbox to dump some PCs into. The tomb itself is quite awesome, but needs some care and possible tweaking if actually used in the game.
The tomb itself could also be used for a one-shot game, with a pre-generated party suitable for raiding it, for some “Tomb Raider” fun in the spirit of the famous old “Tomb of Horrors” (where quite often the name of the game was seeing how far you get before you all die).
Renegade Crowns is a somewhat different take on the “regional sourcebook” theme. Normally, in something like this we’d get a gazetteer of a region, and various articles about the natives, customs and what have you, along with some plot hook. However, this book is about the “Border Princes” region, intended by the designers to be a “sandbox” area for whatever tiny kingdoms and factions the GM wants to install there. How do you describe a sandbox?
The approach taken here is: don’t describe it, instead create a toolkit for creating that sandbox. So instead of descriptions, most of the book consists of a system for semi-randomly generating the geography for a region, and then for populating that region with factions and their rulers (along with motivations etc for the rulers). Lots of tables are involved, but that’s not a negative; it seems like a nice and quite straightforward system for generating custom-made “border princedoms” for your game. The book also contains a detailed example, with the final product (along with map) as an appendix. So yes, you can buy this book and just use the pre-generated area as-is, it’s pretty decent and contains some fun plot hooks. However, the “meat” here is the mini-kingdom generation system. It’s “semi” random since the book explicitly tells you to use random rolls as inspiration, not as a strict tool; you’re supposed to ignore/reroll stuff that doesn’t make sense. Sane people will do that anyway, of course, but it’s nice to see that explicitly spelled out. The example also contains bits where nonsensical results are rolled, and then substituted with something that works better.
I really liked this book, it’s a clever toolkit and conforms to the original “keep this area of the game world officially undefined” idea, while at the same time allowing you to populate it without too much hassle. Sure, you could just come up with random stuff without this book, but I think most GMs would find this a nice tool, if nothing else it’s a nice source of additional ideas.
While it’s geared for the Warhammer world, this should be useable with some tweaking for lots of other fantasy rpgs, too. For example, Exalted has the “Thousand Kingdoms” area which is identical in design concept to “Border Princes” (explicitly undefined GM sandbox). Using this book to populate a part of it would probably work pretty well, swapping Warhammer details (like Ork tribes) for suitable Exalted replacements).
The WFRP Companion is a bit of an odd duck. That’s not to say it’s a bad book (it’s actually pretty nice), just that it’s quite hard to categorize. Maybe the closest description is “collection of random stuff left out of the original core book”. We get descriptions of the waterways of the Empire, along with some occupations related to them. There is a section of trade and commerce. We get extended information about medicine, surgery and such. There are some new monsters and beasts, and a new major cult.
None of this is really necessary to a game, but lots of the info here could be used to spice up certain types of campaigns and to lend some extra color and realism to the Empire. I view it an an optional extension of the core book – get it if you would like some extra random tidbits about the Empire and life there, ignore it if you’re fine with what you already have.
Tome of Corruption is an in-depth look at Chaos in the Warhammer fantasy world, much like Realms of Sorcery was for magic. There’s a lot here, and it’s mostly very good – it’s close to a “must-have” if you intend to seriously use Chaos in your game (at least in any nuanced form). It’s a big book: even though 256 pages doesn’t sound like much, the smallish font and full layout used in this game line means it’s quite a hefty tome, information-wise.
The book explores Chaos from many directions. We’re given descriptions about the various types of typical Chaos worshipers and how they differ from each other, and also on how their cults differ in their aims and behavior. There’s a huge list of expanded mutations, for extra fun in inflicting your PCs with new… features. We get a pile of new Chaos equipment, most of it in the “unique artifact” category. In general, the first part of the book concentrates on general description of Chaos workings within the Empire, including the old “why would anyone want to serve Chaos in the first place?”.
The second part takes a look at various Chaos-related beasts, monsters and peoples, including information on how to play one as a PC. Also included is some info on Witch Hunters and other enemies of Chaos. The third part moves the viewpoint North, to examine the faux-Viking Norsca and the northern Chaos Wastes. Lots of adventure potential here, it’s a nasty and lethal place, filled with nasty and lethal people and monsters.
The book winds down with an examination of the major Ruinous Powers and their (very different) goals, along with Chaos Sorcery and the armies of Chaos.
It’s a great book, and does for Chaos much what Realms of Sorcery did for magic: expands and enhances it for game use. Without the background here, it’s all too easy to portray Chaos as mindless destruction and corruption for the sake of corruption. While it can be that, there are also lots of other options, some quite subtle.
Terror in Talabheim is an adventure (close to a “mini-campaign”) for Warhammer, focusing on the walled city of Talabheim and also focusing on the Skaven. Reading the Children of the Horned Rat sourcebook in conjunction with this is probably a very good idea for a GM intending to run this, since the furry horrors feature front and center (eventually) in this.
The first third or so of the book is a sourcebook on Talabheim. The page count involved isn’t huge, but it’s enough to give a basic overview of the place and focuses on some important spots. Of course, the GM will need to improvise most smaller detail, but the info given here should be enough to get started. After that we get the adventure itself and… it’s pretty damn good, and a lot more large-scale and cinematic than I was expecting. Skaven plots are usually hidden in the background and involve assassination and subtle blackmail, but here… well, I don’t want to give specific spoilers but it’s fair to say that the shit well and truly hits the fan (and the PCs) in this one.
The story begins with the PCs (who are assumed to have at least some ties to Talabheim) stuck outside Talabheim where a plague is raging. Presumably the cure can be found inside the city, but that way is closed. Well, officially at least. Eventually the PCs do manage to gain access, and that’s when the real fun begins. It’s quite a ride. There are some things to be aware of here: first off, the GM needs to provide decent motivation for the PCs to want to enter Talabheim. A plague is given here, but some PC groups may just try to take the “run far away” option, which needs to be made into a very (obviously) bad idea. Secondly, the action near the end involves a lot of large-scale set pieces, so the GM needs to do quite a bit of prepwork here and fill in some detail where needed. That said, it’s a very nice adventure and switches gears and themes quite a few times. The beginning is social skullduggery and some covert sneaking around, while the end part is pure mayhem.
Skaven (the elusive “rat men”) have been somewhat conflictingly described in Warhammer Fantasy. On one hand, we have numerous sources citing the official line of “they don’t exist!” and the general belief that they are just a myth. On the other… well, they seem to crop up a lot in various adventures, and there seem to have been various “historically confirmed” cases of said rat men overrunning towns and even small cities. Of course, this isn’t really all that much of a conflict: adventure are by no means representative of the normal state of things (and a good thing that), and “officials” throughout history have been extremely good as denying even the blindingly obvious things – especially so in a world with little to no reliable news, where normal people generally do not travel at all.
So, skaven. According to Children of the Horned Rat, they exist (shocker) and are very very nasty. What most in the Warhammer world do not realize is that they are also quite intelligent, easily on par with men – it seems that without their built-in hyperactive personal survival drive (which leads to near-complete disregard of others, or the “larger picture”) they would have conquered large parts of the surface world long ago. As is, their vast warrens exist underground, in poisoned, supposedly uninhabited areas. There they dream ratty dreams of world domination, keep hordes of slaves, and dabble in murderous infighting.
The skaven are separated into clans, with very different focuses. One concentrates on disease, one on weird technical gadgets (ratling guns!), one on biological mutated horrors, one on stealth and assassination… the list goes on. Outside these major clans exist large numbers of minor clans, all looking out for a chance to grab their own chance for glory… which generally would happen at the expense of one of the other clans. It’s a very rat-eat-rat world.
There’s a lot of nasty here. The skaven aren’t just rats the size of men, they are also quite loathsome in behavior and hold zero esteem for other races; the main use for humans is either as slaves (to be worked to death) or food. Or both. You do not want to be taken alive by these guys. Alongside the nastiness we also get some humor; the fact that their own nature will almost always ensure that their large-scale plans fail, usually via a series of backstabs and betrayals, is great plot fodder. Also, the weird technological gadgets (most of which have a huge chance of going awry) are good for a fun bit of chaos, quite like orkish gadgets are in Warhammer 40k.
The book ends with a short example scenario, which is interesting in the sense that it can be played either as “normal” humans, dwarfs or what have you, or it can alternatively be played with skaven PCs – the book also contains rules for skaven character creation. I can see something like that working very nicely for a one-shot or short campaign, though a longer game as skaven might get tricky… their life expectancy generally isn’t all that long. Of course, some sort of underground Paranoia/Skaven mishmash might be a ton of ratty fun, if it focuses on skaven internal politics and backstabbing.
It’s a good intro to the skaven race, and gets extra points for giving up tools for actually playing skaven. The page count is somewhat on the low side, though, so I’m sure there was material that had to be left out of this simply for page count reasons.
Barony of the Damned, subtitled “An Adventure in Mousillon” is… well, an adventure module set in Mousillon. Duh. It’s also a sourcebook for Mousillon, the damned realm of Bretonnia – in the usual Warhammer style for books like this, the first half of the book is a general sourcebook for the area, and the second half is the adventure itself. It works nicely.
It’s never quite determined what exactly caused the damnation of Mousillon, but the fact cannot be ignored; it’s so clear that the rest of Bretonnia has built a ring of armed forts around the area, with a “you can go in, but can’t get out” general mindset. It’s sort of like Escape from New York, in faux-medieval France. The area is dismal, even for Warhammer, with ridiculously downtrodden peasants trying to survive the depredations of various nasties, including vampires, ghouls and other sorts of undead. Central is the city of Mousillon, a lawless place with several gang somewhat “running” the place and lots of people just trying to survive. Many are just trying to figure out a way to leave. There’s some nice political treason here, with a Black Night is trying to unite nobility behind his flag, perhaps intending to overthrow some of the nobility in other parts in Bretonnia. Cynical minds might say that it’s this political dissent and not the cursed undead which led to the blockade of the area, but who knows.
Of course, the adventure has the PCs dumped into Mousillon, tasked with bringing back the head of a known arch-criminal, I mentioned Escape From New York earlier, and it applies a bit here too. While we don’t get Snake Plissken (unless the players create him), the main idea of “go into dangerous territory ruled by gangs and bring back X” still applies. Of course, here the PCs are free to be… creative with their problem solving, and will need to be in order to get out of this one alive. The adventure is a series of scenes/encounters, most of them quite amusing, with less weight on combat and more on cleverness and social maneuvering. It reads like a fun adventure, though it is quite dangerous and probably more suited for a one-shot than part of a campaign.
So… if you want to inflict some outrageous French accents on your players, you could do worse than try this pre-gen adventure. If contains undead, mud, peasants, nobles (some actually noble, most not) and pirates. Sort of.