The phrase “classic for a reason” is one that I over-use in Geek Native’s spoiler-free mini-review column Irregular Reconnaissance to describe well-aged and still outstanding anime. I very rarely get to use it for RPGs and their supplements.
It’s a delight to use the phrase to describe the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay adventure Death on the Reik. The adventure was first published in 1987.
The latest version, for Warhammer 4e, is by Cubicle 7 and is something of a director’s cut. The credits headline Jim Bambra, Graeme Davis, Phil Gallagher and James Wallis. That’s a strong Venn with the original creative team.
Death on the Reik may be best known as the third adventure of the iconic Enemy Within campaign. This book is the second in the series from Cubicle 7.
It’s a challenge to review an adventure without wading into spoilers, but let me at least say this; Death on the Reik doesn’t need to be part of Enemy Within. If you want to run pre-written adventures but not fancy trying the legendary campaign, I think you can plug this complex scenario in, but you’ll have to make modifications.
The adventure in brief
Death on the Reik is a river adventure, mostly. Characters can even become quite wealthy if they rise to the challenge of being savvy merchants.
In the web of plots, they’ll learn more about the Chaos cult and Tzeentch followers of The Purple Hand and their rivals The Red Crown. Warhammer’s Warpstone is significant in it too.
By design, Death on the Reik is designed to follow on from the adventure Enemy in Shadows and then lead into Power Behind the Throne. Power is a challenging adventure, and this cut of Death on the Reik has been modified to help address that, specifically by adding the James Wallis and Hogshead adventure Carrion up the Reik.
Other changes make the Red Crown plot more robust and less likely to be disrupted by characters not taking cues on time, the signposting around the Purple Hand clearer, and the mentor NPC more helpful and flexible. As the introduction from Graeme Davis points out, they’ve had 30 years of feedback. I’m pleased to say; they used it.
If you’ve played Death on the Reik before, as I have, I think you’ll react the same as me. This cut feels like the original. The essence is there, the Warhammer-ness is there, but it does feel better. If this was a machine, the cogs are more thoughtfully greased and turn with satisfying ease.
That said, Death on the Reik can be a tricky set of encounters to run at times simply because characters (and often) do anything they fancy. Expect curveballs from your group.
There are eight sections to this adventure, and they’re woven carefully and tightly together. You shouldn’t be reading this if you are more likely to be playing the game than running, but in the interests of hedging on spoilers I’ll list the eight below but skip the detail.
- Bogenhafen to Altdorf
- Altdorf to Kemperbad
- Kemperbad to Black Peaks
- Grissenwald to the Barren Hills
- Unterbaum to Wittgendorf
- Castle Wittgenstein
- A Stop Along the Way
I think, although I’ve skipped the details, you can get the gist from those headings. This is a road trip, well, a river trip, and we can see the significant events.
Wittegendorf is near the apex of the travels, where there’s a Temple of Sigmar, but it’s all foreshadowing the events at Castle Wittgenstein.
Playability of Death on the Reik director’s cut
As I’ve already said, this edition of the adventure feels like the original.
But it is different, and while I hope this isn’t too controversial, it’s better. Even looking back at my one time as an Enemy Within GM, I remember too much page-flipping during Death on the Reik while I was trying to run it. I haven’t run the director’s cut in full but did one-shot the opening eighth for a Discord-based club, and it was so much easier.
Of course, perhaps I’ve both the experience of about 20 years and have run the game before.
I think it’s more than that, though. The structure is more precise, the layout better, the foreshadowing and guiding more powerful.
Look and feel
On the note of the scenario’s layout, I honestly think a reason to buy Death on the Reik is to have it in hardback. It’s a collection piece.
In my hands, Death on the Reik feels like a quality product. Thick covers, lovely page quality and some stunning art.
The formatting is crystal clear, and I can only heap praise on the layout. Things are where you need them to be.
The game’s cartography is formidable and evocative. It’s like escaping to the Empire.
If you’re a Warhammer fan, Death on the Reik will remind you why.
If you’re not a Warhammer fan, then, well, Death on the Reik summons up a whole glove of Warhammer and slaps you in the face with it. That might make you change your mind, but probably not.
GMs debating starting the Enemy Within have been given one more reason to swing in favour of the campaign.
- Buy Death on the Reik.
Disclaimer: I was provided with an advanced copy of Death on the Reik to review.
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