Monday, March 18, 2013

The Enemy Within (and character creation)

Yesterday, we made characters for a new Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd Ed campaign. I can already tell it's going to be an amazing campaign, mostly because our PCs are really great characters.

Scenario Choice

I'll be running The Enemy Within, which is a new re-imagining of the classic Warhammer adventure series from back in the day. I don't usually work from published plotlines, but I wanted a good solid structure to lean on because I'm also running a few other systems on other days, and didn't want to risk burning myself out or overlooking a major problem with a homebrewed plot like I did during that zombie campaign last year. The Enemy Within has gotten good reviews, and reads absolutely fantastically, so I'm quite confident in this campaign. It'll be nice to have a bit of a safety net below in place.

Group Size

Warhammer 3rd is a very crunchy system, sometimes a little slow, with lots of fiddly bits and deluxe full-color components that eat all the table space.  So I knew I'd have to keep the player count low. Our usual weekly gaming group has 6 to 9 players, and that just wasn't going to be doable with this game... but I really wanted to GM Warhammer more than once in a blew moon, so I had to figure out the right configuration of players and juggle things around to make it work. It wasn't easy. I know a lot of really good gamers in town, and excluding anyone is heart-breaking. I went with a 5-person game (me GMing, plus 4 players), which I figured was the maximum I could fit given table space, number of action cards, and the length of a combat turn.

Creating the Characters

The system is pretty crunchy, and just making a party of four PCs took over 4 hours. Despite that time investment, character creation went really well, and it's hard to imagine how it could possibly have gone better. Our PCs are awesome.

You pick from over 40 careers (starting character classes) to build your PC. On top of that you stack one of 6 backgrounds that provided specific plot-hooks to the The Enemy Within campaign and NPCs. Over all of this, we drape a party card that provides a framework for why the PCs are working together and offers a few extra special abilities to the players.

It's a neat system, especially the backgrounds and the little backstory quizzes that come with them. All the characters came together in really dynamic ways that I'm pretty darned pleased about.

Our characters are:
  • Human Gently-Born Pistolier (nobleman cavalry)
  • Human Academic Apprentice Wizard of the Bright Order (pyromancer)
  • Human Criminal Initiate of Ranald (priest of the god of thieves)
  • Dwarf Battle-Scarred Apprentice Runesmith (magic blacksmith)

All four characters are very flavorful and unique. They've got some very detailed linkages to each other and the various NPCs of the setting. The wizard and the priest are siblings, with a bit of rivalry already built in. Everyone has a connection to the Pistolier's dreadful father and beloved brother. All the PCs are not only friends, but have taken an Oath to work towards a particular end (see below) that will keep them united in the face of adversity.

The dwarf's player wanted to be a troll-slayer, which is a ronin-themed suicidal dwarf attempting the impossible task of restoring his honor.  Rather than start as a troll-slayer, though,  he's playing a runesmith and has asked me to intentionally dishonor him with some horrible tragedy somewhere around session 8 to 11 so he can take troll-slayer as his second career. This is great! I love it when players actually ask you to be mean to their characters, as it makes for good drama. His starting with the runesmith skills and  intelligence will also provide a lot of depth to the otherwise sometimes one-dimensional slayer concept, and playing out the fall from grace will now doubt make for some memorable scenes.

Spontaneous NPCs

There was some confusion about which background cards got picked, which resulted in several players answering questions from their background cards that referenced connections to the "outcast" background PC - who didn't exist.

Their answers were really good, and we didn't want to just dump that material. So we decided the Pistolier's brother was the Outcast, and had been disowned by their villainous father. If anyone dies (or loses a leg thanks to the harsher critical wound cards in Omens of War), they'll grab the outcast card and have an easy entry for their next character by playing the brother. It's nice to have a prearranged hook for bringing in a new PC if something goes wrong.

The other awesome thing that came up out of this outcast situation was that the players made up all sorts of background about the Pistolier's family. They decided that Pistolier's father has possibly dabbled in black magic, spontaneously creating a villainous NPC for me to use. They took the Oathbound Party card to represent that they are all sworn to prevent the father's villainy from coming to fruition -or- ruining the family name. So they can't just pass him off to the witch-hunters.

If you're at all familiar with the way The Enemy Within works, you'll know that the campaign has some serious detective work in it, and is written with multiple possible Big Bad Evil Guys. Who's the real mastermind, and which NPCs were merely framed? That's up to the GM, with several different versions of each scene in the campaign notes for you to carefully pick from based on which NPC you're eventually pointing the players at. So having an extra NPC to use as innocent red herring, extra BBEG option, or lieutenant mini-boss in league with the true villain is a wonderful resource.  My players have really done me a favor with this. Thanks, guys!

All told, I'm really excited about this campaign.

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