Forges of Nuln is the finale of the Paths of the Damned adventure trilogy for Warhammer (2nd edition). From a design viewpoint, it’s a mix between the tight railroad of the first one and the almost total free-form sandbox of the second one. It’s also pretty good, on par with the previous book (and much better than the first one).
As the title implies, events take the PCs to Nuln. As always, this sort of transition involves a bit of railroading, but that railroad is made somewhat more interesting by framing it as a river cruise, with a murder mystery. It’s a fun diversion, marred by the fact that the PCs have extremely little chance of actually catching the guilty party. Since this subplot it mostly disconnected from the main one, it can also be left out if it doesn’t seem to fit in. After the cruise the PCs arrive in Nuln, and the main plot kicks into motion again. As in the previous parts, the driver here is the recovery of an artifact – a cursed chalice in this case. The PCs are given free rein in the city and a pile of clues and starting points, but on the other hand events outside their direct control are on a set timeline here – certain events happen at certain points unless the PCs interfere. Things spiral towards chaos, with a cataclysmic endgame which the PCs may or may not manage to stop or at least temper somewhat.
As with the previous parts, the book begins with a section describing the city of Nuln. It’s shortish, but contains enough locations and general flavor to let the GM improvise city events without needing to make everything up.
As a whole, the trilogy is in the “ok” category. It has great segments, but also a weak (i.e. over-railroaded) beginning. The “find X artifacts to prevent bad thing Y from happening” main plot is more than a bit tired, but at least the artifacts themselves have some plot potential and the three books are all quite different in style and plotting. It’s probably a fun campaign to play through, but the GM needs to step easy on the railroading and maybe rethink some bits and pieces to better suit the play group’s style.
Spires of Altdorf forms the second part of the “Paths of the Damned” adventure trilogy for Warhammer 2e, and while it has its flaws it’s at least significantly better than the first part. Where that one was marred by being a near-total railroad, this adventure is at times almost too free-form. It starts off with some railroading though; the PCs are assumed to be interested in tracking down two specific artifacts, one of which is reputedly somewhere in Altdorf. All this character motivation may need some work from the GM, since there’s always the possibility of the PCs going “screw this, we’re going somewhere else”. Anyway, assuming the players jump to the bait and travel to Altdorf, they are almost guaranteed to be set upon by some hostiles no matter what they do. So far, so railroady… though it must be noted that the attack does serve a reasonable story purpose.
After they arrive in Altdorf, things become almost totally free-form. There are tons of possible leads and a vast network of NPCs which can be queried for clues – assuming the PCs find out about specific NPCs via others. This is by far the best part of the scenario; there are nifty diagrams showing the relationships between the NPCs, and the plot can go in lots of different directions depending on who the PCs speak to. Proper etiquette is important here and combat skills almost useless – a nice change of pace.
If the PCs navigate the NPC jungle and get some actual information about the location of the artifact, next they need to get their grubby hands on it. After that, they need to figure out a way to destroy it, which is far from trivial… while no Mt. Doom is needed, neither will a simple “we just smash it to bits” approach work. Nasty things, those demonic artifacts. There are lots of ways the PCs can solve this thing, which is a very good trait after the initial railroady nature of this series.
The book also has a section describing the city of Altdorf, with emphasis on getting the “feel” of the city across to the players. I liked this, since with this page count there is no way to get much fine detail down anyway; tools to help the GM describe the place are much more useful. Of course, since it’s a huge place only some specific places are detailed, with most left to GM improvisation. I felt I got enough info here to be able to run this thing if needed, but of course some more detail and NPCs would always be nice.
While not a “must-run” adventure, this is significantly better than the first part, and gets high points for an intricate social network which the PCs will need to navigate. While probably a bit tricky to run, the book does give lots of nice diagrams to help the GM out. Overall, the weakest point here is the general “find and destroy three evil artifacts” main plot of the series; it’s a bit worn as a plot device, and the PCs may need significant GM prodding to get on with it (there is no clear reason given why the PCs would take this “job” in the first place).
Ashes of Middenheim is the first adventure in the “Paths of the Damned” adventure trilogy. The book is divided into two sections: the first half describes the city of Middenheim, with notable locations described and some detail on the past history of the city. It’s quite nice, though there aren’t all that many maps so in most places the GM will have to invent something on the fly. Not that this is a huge problem, since the writeup contains a lot of information about the current mood and “look & feel” of the city.
The second half is, naturally enough, the adventure itself. It’s a bit more problematic. It’s set up to be a direct continuation of the short adventure in the core book; if the PCs didn’t go through that then the initial setup involves the PCs delivering a religious icon to a Sigmarite priest in Middenheim. This triggers a murder and various conspiracies in the city, and the PCs get caught up in the mess. As a story, it’s ok and has some very nice scenes. But… it has serious problems. The main one involves the extremely linear nature of the (at times complex) plot. The PCs are expected to do some very specific things, in a specific order, and that will never happen in most games. In addition, many of the events consist on Important NPC X telling the PCs to go do Y, which gets a bit old. There is a scene here where the PCs are set up to be overwhelmed by enemies… only to have a group of powerful NPCs show up at the last moment to save them. Usually this would be supremely annoying, and it’s a bit of that here too – but there is the saving grace that it sets the PCs up to return the favor later and turn the tables. Still, use of uber-NPCs to manipulate the PCs is something you have to be very careful with.
In addition to the linear and somewhat railroaded nature of the thing, there are many spots where the PCs need to find some specific clues, using skills most beginning PCs will lack. What happens when or if the PCs either don’t have the skill or fail their roll? The adventure doesn’t say, in general. The background plot here is quite decent and interesting, but as written it’ll be quite obscure to the PCs until the final showdown (and maybe even after that). Oh, and about that showdown: the PCs are expected to run ahead of the city officials and other NPCs to a specific site, where they’ll encounter a specific bad guy… but why would they do that? Why not just go along with the NPCs, who have militia and other clout with them? As written, it just won’t work like the writer imagines it will.
So, in the end what we have here is a quite decent plot with lots of opportunities for investigation and intrigue, somewhat spoiled by a linear presentation and over-obfuscation of the background facts from the PCs. It also uses Skaven at an early point, which totally removes the “mysterious and mythical” nature of that race. There is good stuff here, but it really needs some rewrite and improvisation to make this one work. For a GM not afraid of some tinkering, this will probably result in a fun game. I have the impression that the two follow-up adventures to this are better, so it might be worth the effort to run this, despite the faults.