Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Goals in RPG Conflicts: RPG Modeling (Part One)

Hollowpoint was nominated for three ENnie awards this year. It’s a great game and one I’ve talked about before a couple of times. In the last couple of years I’ve read three games- Hollowpoint, Microscope, and FATE which impacted the way I’ve run. Or at the very least, they’ve made explicit for me some of the things I do or want to do at the table. In particular, Hollowpoint’s made me think about the way we go about defining concepts- actions, skills, powers, flaws- in tabletop games. In particular HP approaches any action as what you’re attempting to accomplish, paired with a narrative about the means you’re using to accomplish that. So instead of saying that you’re “take a shot at X,” you say you’re spraying the room with fire and trying to cut down the opposition to neutralize their effectiveness. Hollowpoint models actions and options at a higher level of detail and effect than most classic games.

In part that’s about objectives- and setting those out clearly for the players. Some versions of FATE put that clearly at the front of a conflict: what’s at stake? What goals do each side have primarily? I’ve certainly been in and run many combats over these years where players found themselves uncertain or even arguing about what they intended to accomplish in the fight. That’s great for certain kinds of games or situations perhaps- where chaos, uncertainty, or fog of war rule. But where that’s no important to the genre or story, these kinds of arguments can slow things down, waste actions, or lead to rw tension.

There’s a parallel in boardgaming which might serve as a counter-example. I like co-op games, in theory. For example, I really dug Pandemic the first couple of times I played it. However, that game as with many co-op games lends itself to Player Leader problem- where a single player issues orders and the other players have to follow or things break down. You can go off the reservation, but might be blamed for losing. And, frankly, because you opt to head in another direction, you increase the chances that you’re going to blow things apart. The Player Leader problem drains a game of fun- and certainly Pandemic’s not a game I really want to play that often.

Most tabletop rpgs combats are, in many ways, simply a co-op game. Many systems shift scale and approach at this level- many build the game around these interactions. So why don’t I often see the Player Leader problem, with one player ordering the others to do X or Y? I’ve seen players assign a leader or a combat leader, but even then, the “orders” tend to be fairly open ended. Something, I suspect arises from what constitutes victory conditions. The players may have goals and stakes at the start of a conflict, but a good GM will shift and change that situation changing up the victory conditions. At least I try to do that- especially if the players have tightly defined what they want to accomplish. If they haven’t then, I take a more hands off approach- their own uncertainty and cross-purposes creates interesting problems. Another reason may be the number and types of variables operating in a situation. In a board game, you can usually reduce the information and choices to a discrete set easily. “We need X by Y turn,” in a good rpg combat, you may have several kinds of clocks and constraints operating. You have the level of social dynamic, the complexities of the player’s characters, the volume of opposition. The narrative and story level not only obscures the information, it creates its own set of needs and goals. Yes, they want to rescue the Princess, but they also want to look cool, have a chance to fight a named bad guy one-on-one, or reduce risk to the associated NPCs of the group.

OK- so what does that mean? When I ran Hollowpoint, it felt strong in part because the game requires the GM and payers to define goals- and to state when a scene is about to deal with one of those goals. I want to try to be better about this. When I set up a conflict, I want to get the players to define their goals. I can set some of the stakes, but I want to get them to verbalize those before we go in- even if just the broadest approach. I need to make sure that I also define the circumstances well. If there are clocks ticking on a conflict those need to be clear. So to take an example from a game I ran last week: you want to capture these power armor dudes; they’re wrecking the docks and you want to stop that; some of them seem to be destroying particular targets; and there’s a fire burning in these two zones here. I also need to make clear what’s not at stake- for example, most of the dockworkers seem to have fled clear of the current combat zone.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Warhammer City: Reading Warhammer's "The Enemy Within Campaign"

I really like city adventures- some of that comes from the set and recurring locations, some from the flavor of these places, but most of it comes from providing material I can reuse and sustain. Traveling adventures mean creating new things constantly; given the number of games I run, I’m all about minimizing effort. I’ve mentioned before a few of my favorite fantasy city sourcebooks- Ryoko Owari, the Citybook series, The Kaiin Players Guide. And about my plans to use Microscope to put together acollaboratively built city campaign. I like my city materials with flavor and distinction.

Warhammer City, on the other hand, lives up to its name. It isn’t a bad sourcebook, but neither is it great. It falls somewhere in the middle.

Part of that comes from the setting and part from how the book came about. I’m reviewing this as part of my reading of Warhammer FRP’s The EnemyWithin Campaign. Technically, it isn’t in that series- but it is an obvious and useful companion book to #4, Power Behind the Throne. As stated in the introduction to this book, when Carl Sargent turned in the draft to PBtT, he had much more material on the city itself- too much for the adventure. So they cut out a significant chunk of it, reworked and expanded that and published it as Warhammer City. So it’s useful in conjunction with PBtT- aside from some minor repetition and overlap between the two books.

There’s a logic to titling this Warhammer City. In some ways, despite trappings and details (like being built on a mountain), Middenheim’s the archetypal Warhammer human city, especially within the Empire. The material and structure given here can be adapted to any major city. In the TEW campaign, we tour a few other cities (Bogenhafen and Kemperbad), but they’re very loosely presented. Middenheim embraces the late medieval/early modern Germanic city-states tone and model. Compare this to something like Marienburg: Sold Down the River, which has a more distinct and unique flavor- rather than feeling like an adaptation of 'history lite' to a fantasy setting.

Warhammer City’s an attractive package- the original version’s a 96 page hardcover. It does seem perhaps a little thin for a hc, but it looks so nice, I can’t really argue with it. GW also bundled this together with Power Behind the Throne for Warhammer City of Chaos. Hogshead also reprinted this as a softcover under the more accurate name- Middenheim, City of Chaos. The layout’s well done- even cleaner and more open than some of the other GW products of the era. It draws from the same group of artists as PBtT with most of those being quite excellent. I especially like the little signposts and inset maps in the text. The book includes a full color poster map of the city- one that is both lovely and useful. The only problem with it, at least in the original GW version is that it is glued into the book, requiring the owner to slice it out if they want to work with it apart from the rest of the text.

Warhammer City provides rich detail on the city of Middenheim, organized pretty well. It’s definitely a GM’s supplement. The material’s general enough that GM’s should be able to adapt it to another system pretty easily. The book paints a picture of a classic high medieval city- with names and ideas which can be useful. What is does offer is quantity for the aspiring and practiced GM (like recent works Eureka and Masks). It has hundreds of little ideas, a shotgun approach to city presentation. The question is whether that quantity rises to become quality. On that point I’m unsure- the book is good, but feels like it needed to go a few steps to provide something more unified and connected.

The book has fourteen major multi-page sections, plus a handful of minor single or double-page topics. It breaks roughly into three parts. The first of those parts paints the larger picture of Middenheim- beginning with an overview of the city and how it fits within the Empire. There’s a timeline and history- interesting, but less useful for running the city. The material here also indulges in some of the bad punning that hit Power Behind the Throne. Next comes a discussion of the churches and priesthood, expanding nicely on the ideas given in PBtT. The section on city politics comes closest to repeating earlier material, but gets around it with some rich details (including a family tree, something I’m a sucker for). The military overview gives ideas on how those roles could be tied to PC careers. Given that you’re dealing with player characters, there’s the necessary section on law and punishment- including rules for trials and possible penalties. The first part wraps up with a discussion of hostelries and accommodations.

The middle portion of the book is the largest single section, running from page 27 through 57. This presents a detailed gazetteer. The material here is tied to numbered and lettered keys on the poster map, plus additional inset maps for reference. After a couple of pages of generalities, the book covers each district in its own section. These describe the general tone of the district- night and day- as well levels of watch patrols. Key locations within the district get their own small entries- more an overview and description rather than a plot hook. In several places building maps complement these. There’s an encounter chart for each district, often with footnotes. The section as a whole wraps up with several pages of generic NPC write ups corresponding to those encounters. These again offer stats & skills rather than hooks.

The last third of the book is a grab bag- providing more of what I think of as playable material. Most significantly it covers Chaos cults in Middenheim. Players coming into PBtT would be following a particular chaos cultist, which that adventure suggests they will be unable to locate and bring down. WC gives more details on that- enough to offer PCs a rich adventure tying up this last thread. The five page section also provides several other plot hooks which could be easily expanded. Having this here solves one of the significant problems plaguing that earlier adventure.

Strangely more page space is devoted to the tunnels and undercaverns of the city. Given the detail here, I have to wonder if these perhaps figured more into the original adventure but were cut to keep things streamlined. The details here are good- including several maps, multiple adventure seeds, and a longer scenario write-up. The book then switches back to the normal life of the city- giving guidelines for how to present things at the level of the players. That begins with a discussion of goods and services (with prices), then expands that with building plans for typical locations in the city. Four pages of general story seeds for the city come next, a total of five. That section could have easily been expanded- its brevity feels very strange. The following section with key NPCs (repeated from the PBtB book) is longer than the adventure resources. The book ends with a mish-mash: snotball, drug use, rumors, and stats for militia and watch.

I like Warhammer City, but at the same time I wish it did more. There’s some interesting material, but a good deal that feels like filler to me. It doesn’t manage to convey character as well as other WHFRP supplements. Instead it wants to be generally useful, which I believe makes it generic. As a part of the Enemy With Campaign, it offers a helpful but non-essential companion volume to Power Behind the Throne. As a WHFRP supplement it works and will be useful for GMs in that setting. The map and gazetteer section in particular are well done. For GMs running other settings or systems, I’d say there are more useful and compelling city supplements available.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Batman Next/Detective Feats in M&M

So I saw The Dark Knight Rises last night. I’d avoided reading as much as I could about it- several really excellent bloggers has written responses and I had them sitting and taunting me from my RSS feed.

The short version is that I enjoyed it- I had a good time while I was watching it and felt satisfied when I walked out of the theater. It had a few places that bugged me a little but it still pulled me along. It is a bit predictable in places but perhaps there’s a message about inevitability there? There aren’t a lot of twists or surprises, as my friend Art pointed out. It has a lot of plot complexity, perhaps more than it needs. It is loooong, but unlike the last movie, I wasn’t conscious of the time passing. I checked my watch several times during Dark Knight Returns.

It is a very particular Batman film- with a specific version of Batman. Those who didn’t care for that version from the earlier films won’t find much here to satisfy them. I like many different kinds of Batman, from BTAS to classic Brave & the Bold to Superfriends to Adam West to Frank Miller to Nolan’s vision. I like this for what it is, another distinct and dark take on the character. I liked Bane, I like Catwoman, I was happy with the new character, and generally enjoyed the ending- even with the telegraphing.

My one huge complaint would be the sound of the film. The dialogue washed out for me I would say about a quarter of the time, buried under the swelling and too loud music. I like Zimmer’s work and I think his batman compositions are hugely listenable. But when that score prevents me from being able to follow things, that’s bad. I really wanted subtitles at times.

So where does the Batman franchise go from here? Art and I were batting this around for a little bit today. It’s pretty obvious that Warner will want to turn around and put another approach on the fast track. Having a closed trilogy will allow them to reboot with some of the potential ill-will of the most recent Spider-Man. Perhaps they can get Nolan to produce. Art pointed out that they’ll need to establish a Batman who can work in a Justice League movie. That would require a more globe-trotting version of the character and perhaps more gadget (vs. weaponry) based. I wouldn’t mind see a lighter version of the character, perhaps with a little super-spy vibe thrown in.

But here’s what I really want to see.

Forget the movies, let’s talk television. I think we can have a version of the Batman TV show- borrowing from Smallville and Arrow, but discarding their continuity. We don’t need to tie into that universe.

Instead we have a "Year One Batman", or at least early days. We have a character who has been a young boy-sleuth (ala Encyclopedia Brown). He’s done this despite the murder of his parent in front on him years ago. But his days of being a prodigy are behind him. He’s trying to find a place in this world, taking odd jobs. In the course of this he gets in over his head- ending up about to be murdered by Gotham thugs.

And that’s when Batman appears. The dark knight appears out of the fog on a bridge and saves him. The vigilante asks his name- Richard Grayson. Batman tells Grayson that he’ll be an agent for him from now on. The next day, Grayson’s contacted by famously eccentric billionaire Bruce Wayne. Wayne’s looking for a personal assistant and wants to hire him.

They meet and it becomes clear that Wayne’s a little crazy- perhaps manic or schizophrenic. He swings between outgoing party animal and prickly recluse. Wayne’s doing investigations, but he doesn’t want his name entering into things directly. He wants Grayson to serve as his leg man (his Archie Goodwin to Nero Wolfe). He needs eyes and ears he can trust. Though Wayne won’t say it, he perhaps also needs someone who can help him interact with people like a human being. The suggestion might be that Alfred’s served this role as a mentor, but passed away recently, precipitating this movement.

So together they fight crime, with the inevitable revelation that Bruce Wayne is Batman. He’s intense- too intense for ordinary people, which is why he needs someone like Grayson to serve as his middleman. Wayne puts in his time as a playboy when he has to, but otherwise he trains his physical prowess endlessly and researches cases. Batman has a network of agents, not unlike The Shadow.

The premise borrows pretty heavily from Sherlock, and I think you could do it without going too far over into the humor. Grayson serves as the human face of the series, our lens into understanding the focus and obsession of the Batman. Of course you can do all of the classic and new Batman stories in this context (Joker, Riddler, Court of Owls, etc.). Eventually Grayson would learn that he’s not the first assistant Wayne’s had- leading to the Red Hood arc, if you wanted.

Done right, with Batman as a complex figure just starting to get his patterns in place- while recognizing that he’s missing “something,” it could work. I’d watch it.

I forgot something with my previous post detective skills in Mutants & Masterminds- specifically about useful Feats for investigations. Some of these feats allow benefits, while others offer bonuses to investigation checks. It is the player’s responsibility to remember and mention these to the GM.

Assessment: This feat generally applies to combat situations, allowing your character to size up the power and fighting capabilities of opponents. However you could also use this when checking out suspects to see if any have had specialty training or carry themselves like professionals. In this case, I would have the feat offer a circumstance bonus to your investigation or perhaps even give you the base information freely (“He looks like a weak practitioner of Shorin-ryu karate…”).

Attractive: This offers a +4 bonus to diplomacy and bluff checks with persons who might find you attractive. Useful for seduction, flirting, and the like to gain information.

Connected: You can call on a specialist or just someone who owes you a favor. This can be to get an introduction, hunt down info, get you in some place, provide legal advice, or other favor. This is a useful way to model someone who knows lots of people or has a team working for them (rather than buying those as minions). Using this requires a diplomacy check, with a DC based on how difficult or dangerous the favor is. I’ll generally give you the opportunity to describe and name your connection. You can also spend a hero point to secure the favor without a roll (subject to GM approval).

Contacts: A little like Connected above, but with a very different mechanical function. As long as you have access to communications, you can make a Gather Information check very quickly (the book suggests a minute). It also allows you to take a 10 or 20 on a check like this at an accelerated pace.

Well-Informed: When you encounter a person or group, you may immediately make a Gather Information check to see if you already know something about them. You usually need to phrase this in the form of a specific question (narrower than “What do I know about X?”).

Benefit: This is a catch-all feat which covers many areas. Several could be easily used to give your character a circumstantial or situational bonus to an investigation check. Wealth, Fame, and Status are obviously picks for example. You can throw money at a problem if you happen to run a company, like Iron Man. Or you may have access to exclusive tickets or back-stage passes, something Mister Miracle has used to grease the wheel of investigations. Security Clearance is another good one. You can use this to represent past experience with intelligence services or groups. Status as a member of a unique group could also help.

Keep in mind that characteristic bonuses can affect several skills. CHA hits most social and interaction skills, while WIS is often useful for perception, and INT works with many technical skills.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Detective Skills & NPC Scenes: Superheroes Year One (Part Six)

I'm tracking my Superhero G+ campaign closely for a couple of reasons. First, I plan to use this concept again in the future. Second, I want to figure out what working with a different context (online vs. tabletop) does to the gameplay. Third, I hope to offer perhaps some help or spark for other people planning on running games like these- and perhaps help them around some stumbling blocks.

As I mentioned before, I think combat's the easiest part of running online, especially if you have tools like Tabletop Forge. Maps and tokens go a long way to holding attention. Mysteries and interactions don't necessarily offer visual cues. So you can potentially lose players- or even lose yourself in the moment, especially because you don't have the secondary indicators of body language and expression from your players. I'm thinking about ways to do perhaps "mind mapping" or note presentation for these segments.

Last week, since I expected some heavy investigation, I broke up the chucks with some NPC interactions- one per player. I had pictures for the NPCs ready to pull up to illustrate and to signal who was on deck at that moment. I wanted the players to have a chance to develop their background (by showing how they reacted to NPCs) and give them a spotlight for a moment. It also nicely split the session into three parts (follow up, NPCs, new leads). Below I offer some notes on how I handle investigation skills as well as a summary of the session (including those NPC interactions).

I wanted to go over how I handle skills in Mutants & Masterminds. I tend to read these more openly than the book suggests; d20 systems often suffer from this problem. Skill can be used in different contexts- based on the situation and the player’s narration. In the case of a mystery, you can take several different approaches. I’ll also mention some key feats to back these up. I tend to borrow the model for investigations presented by the GUMSHOE system, with Core Clues which provide links and general clues.

The game offers two perception skills: Notice and Search. Notice is most often used to spot a surprise or catch something hidden in an active situation. I’ll often roll for that. I use this rarely for investigations; instead we check it to see if you realize something as you move through a scene. Search is a more active skill- it is used for tossing a room, looking for secret doors, or trying to find concealed cameras. Search implies time. Search doesn’t have forensic precision, but can be a useful fall back for tossing a scene. Thor going through the rubble is a good example of Search, not exactly methodical or organized.

Keep in mind that if you investigate something, I’ll often try to clarify that you’ve eliminated a particular possibility. That kind of research is just as important as uncovering something new.

Gather Information: This is the go-to skill to finding things out. It represents picking up word on the street, talking to sources, searching on the internet, or going through records. If you want to get a general sense of things, go to Gather Info.

Investigation: It represents more sophisticated techniques and channels. On the one hand, it implies forensic training. Making an Investigate roll at a scene can potentially offer more reliable, detailed, and precise information than making a simple Search roll. It suggests an organized approach. Investigate also suggests access to certain deeper sources (like background checks, databases, lab comparisons, and so on). It can be used in place of an appropriate Craft skill for analyzing things. Investigation can also be used to simulate “Cop Talk”- meaning that it can be used as an interaction skill with investigators and police.

Diplomacy: If you have a reasonably friendly contact or NPC, diplomacy can be a useful skill for getting information or assessments from them. You can also use Diplomacy as an investigative skill if you can reasonably explain the persons or group you’re going to talk to and your character would logically have established connections with them. The burden’s on the player to set this up. For example, something strange has happened which might have been an elaborate set up. Mister Miracle might reasonably say that he has strong connections in the Stage Magician community, so he’d like a Diplomacy check to speak with people there to see if they know anything.

Bluff: The “Fast Talk” of this system- often used to wheedle information or other things out of NPCs. It has a combat component as well (used with Feint). If, for example, you’re impersonating someone to get information, I might have you use Bluff or just use it as a complementary skill. Useful for gaining access to places and things. If you’re incorporating a lie in what you’re doing, I’ll likely have you use Bluff over Diplomacy. Bluff can be aggressive convincing, which often means the target will realize later that they may have made a mistake.

Intimidate: Requires a pretty specific situation, and highly affected by the context. Aggressive, so can generate blowback if badly done.

Sense Motive: This is a key skill- used as resistance against most interaction affects (Bluff, Intimidate, Feint, Trick, etc.). Sense Motive is “human perception” and can be used to assess the reaction of a target. If you’re interacting with someone, I may ask for a Sense Motive to pick up on details of behavior or important body language. This is excellent for getting a read on someone and their behavior (for example if you’re tailing them).

Profession/Craft: If a topic falls under a particular Craft or Profession, having the narrow skill related to it will obvious be helpful and offer more detailed information. Depending on the circumstance, you can also use your relevant skill in place of another interaction skill when dealing with other members of that group. For example, Craft (Chemical) could be used for talking to Chemical Engineers or Industrial Chemists.

Computers: Finding stuff online or in general circulation is based on Gather Information. Computers is used for several more specific purposes. If you know of a secure system or database which has information you want, you can make a check to break in. Depending on the security, you might want to set up a “caper” to give yourself bonuses. Computers is used to located information on a system you’ve accessed. Analysis and assessment of that file or information may require another skill.

Fenton Follow Up
The group made sure things had been dealt with properly regarding Fenton. The double they’d seen at the beginning of the fight made them suspect the villain might have arranged some kind of last ditch escape. Mr. Freeze gave an interview to the media, and the group ensured the safety of the rescue workers and site specialists before being moved off-site. While the Heightened Crimes Unit was at least responsive, the got more of a cold shoulder from the DHS personnel, who came in to lock down the scene.

The group gleaned several pieces of information from the interactions. 1. A comatose Prof. Fenton was taken to Faulkner House- kept sedated for the moment- to be secured. 2. Fenton had no conventional “computers” on site. However HCU investigators did find evidence that Fenton had been making notes and looking into two areas. First, the current gang wars- especially those involving the Penguin, the Triads, and the Devilfish. Second, the LexCorp Space Laser under development. 3. The “Black Hole Generator” collapsed in on itself, leaving few traces. 4. The DHS called in STAR Labs to oversee the removal of materials from the site for examination.

The group also discussed a “name” for the group, resulting in little or no progress on that front. In fact, we made have made negative progress.

NPC Scenes
Mr. Freeze returned to LexCorp, where CEO Franklin Richards called him into a meeting. He asked Freeze if he would be willing to change his status from employee to consultant, in order to insulate the company from some liability (a luxury, Richards pointed remarked, Tony Stark didn’t have to worry about). Freeze and Richards exchanged some sharp word- with the latter making clear his position on weaponization and the fact that LexCorp employees had caused the “incident” with his wife. Richards said that those people had been holdovers from the previous administration and had been dealt with. Freeze agreed to the new role, but wanted his lawyers to look over the additional non-compete materials.

Thor, in his Donald Blake identity, took the subway into work. On a packed train, he found himself face to face with Loki, dressed in a business suit. They exchanged barbs, with Loki relaying his stepmother’s words, asking for Thor to beg his father to allow him to return. Thor declined and pressed Loki on the “secret mission” which brought him to Middenheim. Loki revealed that he’d been released and sent here by Odin himself. Finally he left with a cryptic message, telling Thor that the Bifrost would be sealed soon and that a war was coming.

Mister Miracle found Sonny Sumo had returned and was in the midst of arranging repairs to his dojo (damaged in the bug attack). Sonny asked about Miracle’s decision to not only become a “superhero” but also to join a supergroup. They spoke about Thor and his role in the mythology of the Fourth World. Miracle speculated about the coming conflict and what that could mean for this world.

Tony Stark took a break, but was immediately roped into a social event to cool investor fears. With a hastily scooped up model on his arm, Stark attended the gala function. He worked his magic- calming frightened board members, worried about this new super-gang. Later Stark found himself approached by the striking Ularia Spica, a scientist at STAR labs. She mentioned that several large and intact pieces of equipment from Fenton’s labs had been brought in that day. She could offer no other information, as that was under the auspices of another division. Spica did mention that STAR labs had an “off-the-books” department devoted to analyzing and figuring out Stark’s Iron Man armor.

Nightcrawler, still considering Sarge Steel’s offer of recruitment, was approached in his hotel by another mysterious strange with a steel hand. Introducing himself as Forge, he spoke with Wagner regarding the present treatment of mutants and metahumans. He wondered if joining such a visible group of superheroes was the right choice to make? Forge suggested that Wagner might consider instead a group devoted to mutant rights, led by a mentor he wouldn’t name as of yet. They called themselves “The Brotherhood” and invited Nightcrawler to contact them in the future if Nightcrawler changed his mind about joining the superteam.

New Investigation Leads
Mr. Freeze and Mister Miracle approached the DHS in order to gain access to Fenton. Luck was with them, and Director Ziegler was out of the office, leaving them in the hands of his assistant Ms. Fields. She reluctantly agreed to allow them monitored access. The pair went to Faulkner House where they found Fenton still in a coma (and apparently kept in check by some strange DHS devices). When Miracle used the Mother Box on Fenton, he discovered that Fenton’s body was effectively brain dead. His mind had move “through time” to another when. Though they didn’t quote have an explanation for what that meant, it did suggest Fenton was out of the picture for the time being.

Tony Stark looked into the question of the rare microscopic Vibranium K which Fenton had utilized. He check and cross-checked records, eventually tracking things back to two possible leads. One he confirmed as the supply line for Fenton’s underground operations. The other didn’t seem to fit Fenton’s MO. Instead it seemed that the second shipment had “fallen off a truck” in transit.

Nightcrawler and Thor rechecked the third and undemolished building from their earlier investigation. They found the mental signal relay and a webcam. They were able to confirm that this was part of Fenton’s set up, but didn’t seem to be active now, suggesting that the group had managed for the moment to put a stop to Fenton’s activities there.

Mister Miracle and Thor looked further into the Zoravian Baltic connection. They figured that Baltic had been looking into other conspiracy leads (revolving around secret NY societies of old) and had uncovered the existence of the tunnels. Unfortunately for Baltic, Fenton had discovered and was making use of those. Baltic had apparently alerted the criminal, resulting in his murder. The pair of heroes spoke with Baltic’s widow, who grudgingly granted them access to her husband’s papers. Unfortunately most of his more valuable pieces and notebooks had been removed for auction. They went through the remaining scraps, and found only one lead- the name of a fellow conspiracy theorist (Donny Vaccarino) Baltic had been in contact with.

Nightcrawler and Iron Man looked into the missing Microscopic Vibranium K. They led them to an underworld fixer who works with high-tech materials, Annastazia Vladimirovna. She recognized both of them and their reputation. After some negotiation she confirmed that the material had been stolen- not for resale, but for in house use- by The Penguin. He was currently engaged in a serious battle with Devilfish and had hired in some outside help. That aid included Russian Expats possessing power armor, not unlike Iron Man’s.

Previous Superhero: Year One Posts

Friday, July 20, 2012

Power Behind the Throne: Reading Warhammer's "The Enemy Within Campaign"

So here’s where everything goes pear shaped. Not for the modules themselves- though by my general reckoning, Death on the Reik’s the high-water mark for the Enemy Within Campaign series. The rest have some excellent moments, but don’t quite reach the same heights. Some require very distinct set ups and party types. This, though, is where my experience of the modules falls apart.

First let me say that I’m a much stronger GM these days than I was twenty-five years ago. Back then I had some decent chops, and combined a wide vision of the story with giving players room for their own choices. But when I had a track I could get stuck on it- meaning that I didn’t roll with the blows well. I remember reading on Reddit several months back a GM freaking out because one of his players was about to advance a level and learn "Remove Curse." He’d built his campaign around the group questing to find the ingredients and knowledge necessary to remove a powerful curse from an NPC. But, to this GM, it wouldn’t be fair if he didn’t allow the PC's spell to fix the curse at the crux of his story. That was in the rules and there weren’t mechanics for more powerful curses. Not allowing it wouldn’t be fair, so he was stuck.

I’m pretty sure that in the time you read that you’ve gone “s’wa?” and come up with at least a half-dozen ways to get around that. That's assuming you’re even willing to accept that as a problem. I point that out because my own story has me shaking my head in retrospect.

As I’ve mentioned before in my reviews of the series, I didn’t use TEWC “as is.” Instead I run it in a more high magic setting, but with Fantasy GURPS, meaning that it still had the normal level and lethality of WHFRP. My players had come off of Death on the Reik with major success and were feeling pretty good. I’d bought Power Behind the Throne and really loved it. I hadn’t really considered if the plot fit with the group I had- I knew I could make it work. I studied the module, cut out the handouts, prepared the table of events, and crafted additional NPC image cards so players would have visual cues. I spent time and effort preparing the adventure. Then they arrived in Rykel (as the city of Middenheim was named in my campaign)…

In the end, I undercut myself. One of the players had wanted to play a shapeshifter. A small race of those existed in the setting, but servants of the "Big Bad." This player asked to run a rogue shapeshifter and I let him- but with a number of significant disadvantages to make up for it. Thus far that character had managed to skate out of real consequences from those flaws. So when they reached Middenheim, per the adventure, I had the magical check at the gate reveal his race. That resulted in some argument- I wanted to give the player a hassle, but still let him in, otherwise the adventure wouldn’t work. The group as a whole entered a negotiation. Based on some of their reputation and connections, the shapechanger was allowed in, with the rest of the group vouching for her and offering their guarantee of good behavior.

The adventure started out well- the PCs keyed into the main plot quickly. They investigated and spoke with NPCs, with some memorable interactions. But some of the players got bored- this wasn’t their cup of tea. In particular, the player running the shapechanger still bristled at being called on his social disadvantages. So he snuck out to raise some hell- which he did, resulting in his character getting attacked by ruffians.

At which point it all blew up. A series of terrible rolls led to the player being injured, rolling critical transformation failures, and finally shifting into a minotaur and going berserk. He gored his attackers and at least one innocent bystander. This multiple shape-shifting performance occurred in front of town guard. He ended up having to flee- and the rest of the party had to escape Middenheim as well ASAP.

The corner of my copy of Power Behind the Throne’s still dented from where it landed as I flung the book over my shoulder.

Today I’d have handled that differently. At the time, PBtT was one of the most ambitious adventure supplements I’d read. I couldn’t see how to fix that unraveling. Even today it has a weird mix of absolute player freedom nailed down with strange moments of GM/Plot fiat. There’s a distinct split between this module and the first half of the TEW campaign. The two of the authors of the earlier modules appear as editors and developers, but the design credit goes to Carl Sargent, who also wrote for D&D, Shadowrun, and Earthdawn. He contributed to a number of other WHFRP supplements including Lichemaster, The Restless Dead, and part six of the TEW series, Empire in Flames. If the earlier portions of the TEW campaign feel like pulp Call of Cthulhu transported to fantasy, this volume feels more like a purist CoC investigation. Combat and high-gear Chaos take a back seat to politics, diplomacy, and detective work.

I have the lovely hardcover GW version of Power Behind the Throne. It feels a little thin to be an hc (only 112 pages), but the companion book, Warhammer City, is even shorter. Hogshead produced their own version of PBtT later- with some differences I’ll return to. The book looks and feels great. The layout’s smartly done- tight and dense, switching between two and three column layout as the text demands. You get an enormous amount of material jammed in here. The cover’s one of my favorites- a simple and evocative image in contrast to the baroque nightmares of the other volumes. The actual text of the book covers 96 pages, with the remaining 16 devoted to handouts, GM reference pullouts, and a game survey. These perforated pages can be easily removed if you’re an idiot and want to ruin the book…as I did. Or you could simply photocopy these and keep things intact.

Several artists contribute to this book, with Martin McKenna’s works being especially good. A couple of the artists aren’t as solid, but they also have fewer images present. One nice change is crediting each artist individually for their contributions so you can tell who did what. The previous volumes skipped that (or had a single artist). The writing's equally strong and equally with a few off-notes. More than the before, Sargent indulges in some puns and in jokes- many particularly bad. The name 'Gotthard Goebbels,' the play A Midsummer Knight’s Dream, and most especially the “1812 Over-Cure” (when the starving besieged locals celebrated on badly smoked rat meat).


In 1998, Hogshead Publishing reprinted PBtT with an additional adventure, designed to fill in the gap between Death on the Reik and this module. The scenario served a singular purpose: to burn the players’ boat. Some people took umbrage at this (“How James Wallis Ruined My Character's Life”) and the author responded (“Yes I Sank Your Barge”). Wallis does have a point- that the presence of the barge as a player resource does potentially drive the campaign in a different direction. The rest of the series assumes the players leave the river behind and don’t look back. In my case, the players fled the city and left the barge. They returned later to find it sunk and a number of their friends and NPCs left there killed. So, yeah, kind of a dick move.

And now to the spoilers.

The players arrive in Middenheim, on the trail of a chaos cultist left over from the previous module (DotR). The authors set up the pursuit of last of the evil von Wittgenstiens there, so it doesn’t come out of the blue. However PBtT states up front that the players will fail at that- or at least will have to put that pursuit on hold for a long time. That feels a little problematic, especially when the adventure hook/push in this module is abstract, and not the concrete figure of a madman. Middenheim is the location for nearly all of the adventure, with the city as a well-developed backdrop. The complementary volume, Warhammer City, expands that; it isn’t required but it could be helpful for the GM (especially the poster map).

Upon arrival, the players discover that several factions of the city are up in arms about new taxes on Dwarves, Wizards, and Priests. The module assumes that in the course of looking for the bad guy (who they won’t find) they’ll become interested in the tax problem. From there they’ll try to figure out who is behind the taxes, study and become proficient with the power structures and key people of the city, and then convince the Graf to repeal those taxes. In doing so they’ll, at the end, reveal a conspiracy which threatens the heart of this city and Electorate. All of this done against the backdrop of a massive carnival which serves as the ticking clock for the plot.

So as a GM- you have to ask yourself: is this the kind of game my group will buy into? The earlier portions of the campaign had plenty of investigation, but combined that with action and combat for those players not so attuned to that- or more importantly, for characters not built for social interaction. PBtT puts a speed bump before the GM. If they can handle the ride, they’ll find a compelling and rich story. If they can’t, they risk alienating and boring some players.

The book breaks into three basic sections: set-up, NPCs, events and plots. The first thirty pages lay things out quickly. I opens with a summary of the spine of the adventure, accompanied by discussion of how to handle problems. To be fair, the author recognizes the difficulty the structure may pose to some groups. He suggests some options for handling things- and especially that the GM needs to signal success to the players. The GM has to make clear they can solve this mystery. The problem is one faced by many adventure modules, especially ambitious ones like this- allowing players open choices while keeping them on track. PBtT offers several “hammers” to knock the players back onto the right path. That’s fine. But it also strangely has several heavily scripted moments, especially at the end, which seem out of place with the earlier freedom. Moments of “…regardless of the PC’s actions, the Bad Guy escapes.” A good GM will fix these, but they brought me up a little short when I hit them.

The city background provided is rich and useful- having a separate citybook available means that the supplement provides just enough history to be useful for the story itself (i.e. the Church relations, the family history, the role of the Dwarves). The same applies to the breakdown of the neighborhoods of the city. You get what you need to run this adventure here. If you want more detail, go to the Warhammer City volume. This book gives briefings on the city sections, a rundown of rumors, and many pages devoted to the events and attractions of the Carnival. That’s a great device and one worth lifting for other games. There’s also a nice rundown of the classic methods and sources for investigations (the streets, taverns, churches, commissions, guilds).

The middle section of the book (32-70, plus supplemental materials) goes over the key NPCs of the setting. The handout section includes a timetable reference card for each of these- showing where they will be at any time during Carnival Week. There’s also a Master Attractions Chart to make it easy to check who might be present where the PCs are. This section opens with advice for handling that and generally how to run NPCs when players approach them. The buzzword is tolerance- players should fall back on role-playing rather than Fellowship tests. The GM’s encouraged to be tolerant…otherwise the players can alienate NPCs and effectively put themselves out of the running. The advice on running social encounters is interesting, and provides a sense of the complexities the group will face. Can they figure out the desires of the NPCs? Can they get through lackeys? Can they keep themselves from goring a particularly unpleasant character?

Each major NPC (or group of NPCs) gets at least two full pages of discussion, as well as an excellent illustration. The sections provide the basics: personality, stats, likely locations, and general reaction modifiers. It also offers an idea of what the NPC knows, misconceptions they hold, goals, and their attitude to each other NPC (in detail). Most also include a discussion of their role, connection, or victimization by the conspiracy. A number of the NPCs offer red herrings for paranoid players. It can get quite tangled. The actual plot has several layers. Even if the PCs figure out one part, there’s another level that’s nearly impossible for them to suss beforehand. Instead, it is left for a GM reveal the twist at the finish. Done well, that could be awesome- done badly it could feel like the GM’s pulling the party’s success away from them.

I should also note that the NPCs themselves are great. Carl Sargent has crafted great personalities and backgrounds. Some follow stereotypes, but enough don’t to make players cautious about making assumptions. There’s a real sense of a living, breathing social network at work here. Players who like NPC interactions will have a great time with this.

The last section of the book provides a number of trigger events-putting NPCs in the players path. It also includes a number of those “hammer” events I mentioned earlier. These can pound the group back in line or pry them loose from a stuck path. They’re a mixed bag- some are clever, while others feel a little too rigged. The book ends with several pages of discussion of the climax of the adventure- which the PCs shouldn’t get to until the last evening of the Carnival (a trick in itself). The GM will have to juggle this carefully. The finale offers a complex fight and chase, if not perhaps a satisfying one. In the end, hopefully the players will have uncovered the conspiracy and saved the city.

At which point they’re thrown in prison.

Because that’s the set up for the next module. They “know too much” about state secrets, so they’re imprisoned, regardless of their work and the allies they’ve made. I’ve done the prison gambit- IMHO that sucks. Some players will shake it off, but most will harbor a serious resentment against the Graf, the City, the Empire, and even the GM for having done that to them. And what PCs are going to go quietly? If you’re going to run this, you really need to think about that ending carefully before imposing it.

I probably sound more negative about this than I mean to be. The bottom line is that Power Behind the Throne is an awesome adventure, but it offers serious challenges. I think opinions may vary as to whether it follows naturally from the previous entry. PBtT is complex, social-based, low-combat, rigged in some places, player-driven, and a kick in the teeth at the end. GMs will need to read through it carefully, and make appropriate modifications. If I wanted to run this again, I would begin by taking a GUMSHOE approach to the mystery. I’d consider what Core Clues NPCs ought to offer- links which connect scenes and characters. Then I’d map the additional clues available from each. I think doing that would give me a better map to work from, without laying down a definite path for the group. It is worth appreciating how rich, open, complex a scenario this is- published in 1988 and anticipating the more sandboxy adventure settings and modules of the future.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Investigations and Villains: Superheroes Year One (Part Five)

We had the third full session of the Superheroes: Year One Game last week. Again we were short two people, but I'd structured things so that wouldn't be such a problem. The fight ended up being quite tough, with two of the players getting KO'd during the battle. Originally I'd hoped to have this week and the previous week's material done in a single session. When that didn't work, I split things in the middle. To flesh the story out, I added a few things to add some tension, including some traps the group would have to overcome. I think I was better on pacing this week. I definitely need to start at 7:30 regardless of who has shown up. I also need to ask players to give me a heads up if they think they might not make it; that will help with my planning. 

To remind the players of the investigation, I sent them a quick summary of it the day of play. My normal instinct is to send that out a couple of days ahead. However that has two consequences. Sometimes players will send you questions which can better be answered at the table as actions, so you have to put them off. On the other hand, if you send reference material too early, players may forget it. I think sending it that day, early in the day, probably strikes the best balance. Here's what I sent them, as an example. Note that I left out who figured out what- I wanted to reinforce that they had come up with this as a group. 

Last session your heroes found themselves attacked by an unknown foe. Giant creatures- synthetic insect monsters hit Tony Stark (and Iron Man as it happened); Mr. Freeze & Mr. Miracle; and Sarge Steel (who was waiting to meet up with Nightcrawler). The attacks were targeted and most were hit by some kind of area energy wave that seemed to cause no real damage (although Stark disputes this). The creatures dispatched, everyone met up at a Stark Labs facility to examine them and put together an investigation.

You pulled together the following pieces of information (note: for simplicity, I’m not citing who found what). If I’ve left off an important detail, please remind me.
  1. The creatures appeared to be constructed, rather than insects made huge. They showed strange bioengineering combined with some mechanical parts.
  2. Two obvious villain choices: The Sliver Brain and Queen Bee. Looking at their past activities and operations, you eliminated them as possibilities.
  3. The creatures didn’t seem to approach the targets from the air- i.e. they weren’t dropped off via a ship or aircraft. That suggested ground-level release in some form.
  4. The bugs contained a metal canister with a section of brain matter in it. It seemed to be some kind of control center. Analysis confirmed that the brain matter was human.
  5. Consultation with experts, including geneticist Hank McCoy, revealed that the mysterious energy beam appeared to be some kind of mental scan, perhaps a mental snapshot of the targets, perhaps a sonar or something like that. Notably, the bugs seem to have transmitted that scan.
  6. The bugs contained a rare element, Microscopic Vibranium-K, used as a resonant power source. That’s a unique substance and hard to come by.
  7. Speaking with contacts inside the Heightened Crimes Division clued the group into a series of “brain snatching” murders. Those had been kept quiet. They’d mostly been among the homeless and dispossessed. However, one attack killed a more wealthy figure, eccentric real estate developer Zoravian Baltic. His murder, and the bizarre means of murder had been kept quiet by the authorities.
  8. Transmitting the mental signal might require a specialized infrastructure.
  9. Bug technology and systems did not seem to be the same as that used for the robots in Mysterio’s Charity Event attack.
  10. The details and style of weird technology did suggest one likely criminal: Professor Fenton, Master of ALGOL.

While supervillains tend to change location to location rapidly, a few have remained consistent menaces to New York. The density and wealth of NYC continues to attract the daring and the violent. It is impossible for local supers to cover all threats to the city, but some super-clashes have occurred. Below are some of the solo villains who have appeared more than once here.

This bizarrely clad villain has been a thorn in the side of the police since he first appeared. Myserio’s powers have not been determined with any certainty. At least a portion seem to be illusions: elaborate tricks, window-dressing and special effects. Yet he also possesses some significant weaponry: able to blind, stun, and even hypnotize his enemies. Mysterio has clashed with both Moon Knight and Engineer. In the former case, the villain set up an elaborate ruse to rob a high society dinner through nightmarish projections. In the latter case, Mysterio attempted to intercept the transport of experimental sound chips. Rumor has it that he acts as a mercenary, driven purely by profit motive. His disadvantage seems to be his love of showmanship. He’s targeted several stage magicians and illusionists for humiliation, which makes many suspect his background lies in that area.

Queen Bee
A supervillainess of unknown origin. She seems to be able to create or transform persons into drones who mindlessly serve her. Queen Bee can fly and release debilitating pollen clouds. Through variant chemical pollens she’s mind controlled victims- wiping memories and leaving them with post-hypnotic suggestions. Her most recent capture led to a daring escape from the new “Raft” wing of the Rykers Island Correctional Facility. Queen Bee had subverted several of the guards there for just this case. Queen Bee’s motives remain uncertain, she has acted for profit several times but she’s also carried out crimes seemingly without logic.

Black Knight
This sword-wielding villain has proven deadlier than his appearance would suggest. Armored and surprisingly agile, he wields an ebony blade which can cut through an engine block. The Knight possesses a number of other medieval weapons of power, including a bolt-launching lance and resilient shield. Most striking is his winged steed. Deadly and trained, the horse can kick through steel doors and shoot into the sky with a single stride. The Knight’s focused his crimes on items of historical merit: museum pieces, valuable books, recovered artifacts and antiquities. He’s known as one of the few villains who actively teams up with others. He’s worked with the Rhino, Klaw, and Whirlwind in robberies along the eastern seaboard. However these alliances haven’t repeated. Authorities believe the Knight makes his home in New York, given the frequency of his crimes there.

While superheroes and masked vigilantes work outside the law, there are lines they haven’t crossed. Or at least most of them haven’t. That doesn’t holder true for the masked avenger known as Foolkiller. He’s made several appearances, gunning down petty criminals and bosses alike. Heavily armed and apparently well-trained he’s murdered at least two dozen people in New York. That most had criminal records has enflamed the debate about the roles of superheroes. Except for a skull mask, Foolkiller’s costume and appearance seems to change between attacks. He’s left a few witnesses alive to make sure they spread warnings.

The Silver Brain
Formerly a scientist with Stark Enterprises, Sergei Vlataroff transformed himself into a being of pure brain. It is unclear whether his present form is a mental construct or an actual metal body. The Silver Brain possesses enormous intellect and can apparently feed on the mind-waves and genius of others. He’s targeted noted scientists and inventors several times. The Brain interacts with the world through powerful telekinesis, and can project mental bolts as well as command victims under his sway. In his most recent attack the Silver Brain was accompanied by a group dubbed the Gorilla Swarm. These insect-headed, gorilla-bodied beings appear to be some form of hive-mind. The Brain used them as his tools in an effort to create a dimensional breaching tower. Ms. Marvel managed to disrupt Silver Brain’s control of the Swarm, sending them into a berserker fury.

A mercenary super-criminal who controls electricity within a short range. He manipulates this to create a static field around himself and add devastating effects to his punches. Several times he’s used his powers to overload and black out city blocks, allowing associates entry into banks, jewelry stores, and casinos. Noman actually appeared on the scene before Yes Man, but the media ignores that. Instead they suggest he’s Yes Man’s nemesis despite the two never having fought. Underworld scuttlebutt suggests Noman’s furious about the link.

With the power to summon and control flames, Pyro’s a self-declared mutant. He’s combined embracing that as a political stance with other criminal activities. Several key groups and figures who suggested mutants pose a danger have been attacked. Offices have been set on fire, property has been devastated, and victims hospitalized. At the same time Pyro has staged flashy robberies to apparently fund his cause. His activities have gained sympathy among radical elements. Some have suggested he has a network of associates. The FBI has so far held off labeling Pyro or his group as a terrorist organization for fear of encouraging anti-mutant fear and paranoia.

Said to be a former spy, this criminal is known as a supreme cat burglar as well as a fixer for criminals. Rumors remain in her wake, but little in the way of solid facts. While she apparently manages her small criminal network, she takes an active hand when something catches her eye. Some of the most daring thefts in the last couple of years have been attributed to her. Some suggest her career stretches back even further than that. 

Previous Superhero: Year One Posts

Monday, July 16, 2012

Warhammer Adventure: Reading Warhammer's "The Enemy Within Campaign"

Warhammer Adventure brings together the first three parts of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay’s The Enemy Within Campaign. While I’ve reviewed each of those parts individually, I thought it would be worth looking at the pros and cons of this compilation version. TEWC has had many different versions over the years. Games Workshop did standard printings, hard-covers, smaller compilations (Warhammer Campaign), and of course Hogshead later did their own versions of these products. So which ones are worth buying if you’re trying to collect this series?

Warhammer Adventure presents the first half of the campaign, covering enough material to fuel a campaign for many months. The campaign takes place in The Empire, a Germanic analogue within the WH world. It has been described as a fantasy Call of Cthulhu campaign, and I think in parts that’s not far off the mark. The various modules, though sharing a theme and elements, take quite different approaches to adventure creation.

The Enemy Within (Campaign Sourcebook and Minor Adventure)
Review: The Enemy Within: Reading TEWC
For all my looking back and grumbling, this stuff provided the baseboard for many, many hours of awesome play at the table- YCMV. The Enemy Within kicks off a truly excellent campaign series; certainly one of the best I know. I ran great portions of it using GURPS Fantasy; the basic line of the adventure can be easily adapted and keep its flavor. Take a look at the session reports created by Chris Flood aka MULRAH which begin here. He’s using HeroQuest 2e to get the job done. I think that demonstrates the resilience and depth of these modules.
Shadows Over Bogenhafen (Linear Mystery Adventure)
Review: Shadows over Bogenhafen: Reading Warhammer's "The Enemy Within" Campaign
That simplicity I mentioned earlier makes Shadows over Bogenhafen easily adaptable to other game systems and even to other settings. It works best with low to moderate magic campaigns; high magic systems could short circuit some of the plotlines established here. More so that TEW, SoB shows its Call of Cthulhu roots. Players stumble into supernatural conspiracy concocted by powers far above their pay grade. The enemy connects with an eldritch and corrupting horror. The evil comes original from the fallibility and humanity of a single greedy and foolish individual who tampered with Forces Beyond His Control. It offers a solid and fun adventure, one the players can walk away from with a feeling of success and accomplishment. I recommend it highly for a fun diversion, and as a prologue to the greatest part of the TEW campaign, Death on the Reik.
Death on the Reik (Extended Multi-Part Adventure/Campaign)
Review: Death on the Reik: Reading Warhammer's "The Enemy Within" Campaign
Death on the Reik’s the best part of The Enemy Within campaign. That’s not to discount the strengths of the two which bookend it, Shadows Over Bogenhafen and The Power Behind the Throne. But DotR offers such riches to the industrious GM. I can be a slow and deliberate investigation scenario, with the players following footsteps filled with vile liquid. It can be a truly fantasy take on Call of Cthulhu. But it doesn’t have to be that way- it can be a more door-kicking adventure. There the players hunt down evil and put it to cleansing flame, relieved that they’ve freed the world from such corruptions. On the one hand, it provides enough for the most literal and narrow GM to run a decent series of adventures; on the other, it provides tools to the adventurous GM who wants to expand the story and provide depth and new angles. It remains, twenty-five years after I first read it, one of my favorite adventure modules.
Warhammer Adventure is a massive collected softcover volume. It clocks in at about 250 pages. Each module has their own section, with the handouts for that part immediately following it. The paper stock is really quite nice and thick. Each section has its own paper color to help make each distinct. The cover stock is especially thick and strong. The book keeps the blue ink printing for “River Life of the Empire” from DotR, a nice touch. It includes the full-color map from SoB covering the city, and the map from DotR covering Castle Wittgenstein. As far as I can tell, no editorial or significant changes have been made to the material here- it remains the same as the original folio and boxed versions.

  • If you’re looking to track down TEWC, this may be the cheaper way to go rather than picking up the individual books. I’ve seen copies of this go for reasonable prices, but I’ve also seen them go higher- depending on the whims of ebay, Amazon and elsewhere.
  • It is nice to have everything together in one place- allowing the GM to check back and forth easily. 
  • The production quality is quite high for a reprint. This is one heavy tome.
  • If you want to use this book in play, you will have to break the spine. It is glued so densely that there’s not good way to avoid that. I have a fear that once cracked, the book may split and give way.
  • There’s a real advantage to only having to refer to a single booklet, of being able to lay a folio flat when you’re running. You can't really do that with this version. 
  • You lose a couple of the big maps in this version, the images of the figures created for the modules, the cardstock scene from SoB, and most importantly the material from the interior of the folio covers.
  • The biggest flaw in this version comes from the handouts. If you wish to use them, you have three choices. One, find an illegal download and print them from that- with a likely reduction in quality and the dubious legality. Two, scan the handouts and print them yourself. That, however, will definitely require breaking the spine of this book. I imagine doing that and getting decent scans will be unpleasant. Three, cut out and use the handouts from this book. That’s not a great choice, because it means destroying this book. That might be OK, except that GW opted to put the handouts after each adventure, instead of all at the end. That means you’ll end up with weird gap cuts. That gap will especially be problematic for the DotR part at the end with its many handouts. 
If you just want to read through TEWC, this compilation could be useful. If you’re really looking forward to actually running it, be prepared that you may have to sacrifice the book itself to the gods of gaming in order to do that.