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The Horned Rat: A Review

One of the great joys of the Warhammer Fantasy RPG lies in its ability to blend grim darkness with wild, fantastical creativity, and this is on full display in The Horned Rat. Over the course of its tangled adventures you and your party of hard-bitten heroes go from hunting cat-killers in the slums to foiling a rat-man's mad plan, and somehow every part of it feels perfectly fitted to the tone of the world.

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As the fourth and penultimate part of the sprawling Enemy Within mega-campaign, The Horned Rat is designed to slot into an ongoing game set in and around the city of Middenheim, and a decent chunk of its content is devoted to keeping the threads of chaos corruption and general unrest that have been neatly cultivated in previous volumes. However, though the book itself is at pains to point out that it works best when used as part four of five, you could get a lot of mileage from running it solo - albeit, with some of the long term plot threads trimmed out and the party's starting XP cranked up.

There are a handful of reasons you might do this, but chief among them has to be this volume's designated bad guys - the Skaven. These nasty blighters are a race of hideously mutated rats, and when run properly they can alternate between slapstick stupidity and creeping horror over the course of a single sentence. They don't turn up too much in the earlier parts of the book, but every time they do it's a delight. From rat-ninjas through to an undead spy-rat (complete with a gramaphone-esque hearing trumpet jammed in its back), they help to make every moment a marvellous mixture of hilarious and horrifying - exactly what you want from Warhammer's Old World.

The campaign is broken up into two roughly even halves. The first of these is a tense and treacherous investigation into what the hell's going on in Middenheim, where the party needs to not only uncover the Skaven's dastardly schemes, but accumulate evidence proving that the rat-things actually exist - apparently a matter of some debate in the Empire.

This entire section can easily be thought of as a series of interlinked, shorter adventures rather than a single monolith of plot, with Skaven schemes and imperial investigations unfolding as the days pass. It's easy to find several different strands of the adventure playing out simultaneously, and while this is gratifyingly open-ended it can be tricky to keep track of all the dangling threads unless your party is particularly single-minded.

Once this tangle of adventures is put to bed and the presence of a Skaven master-plan uncovered (or, at least, hinted at rather strongly), the second half of the campaign is much more traditional, with a roughly linear plot that culminates in a big old battle in the mountains. While this may seem a little disappointing after the freedom offered by the earlier sections, the pace is kept high enough and the action is compelling enough that most parties really aren't going to mind. If someone is genuinely opposed to tearing off into the mountains to thwart the plans of evil laser-rats, Warhammer Fantasy RPG probably wasn't the game for them in the first place.

Really, the only major sticking point in the entire thing is that, as with many of the other volumes in Enemy Within, there are a few spots where the book throws down clear limits on the players' actions. Any plans to head off to investigate the Skaven plans outside the city before the designated time, for example, are hit with a rather arbitrary "you can't go here yet" message, and the GM is instructed to send them off on a handful of scene-setting side-quests while things move behind the scenes.

Putting these complaints aside, however, The Horned Rat is a stellar bit of Warhammer Fantasy RPG campaigning. It straddles the line between grim horror and silly fantasy with impressive grace, and though there's a lot for the GM to manage it's great fun to run. The biggest issue is waiting for part five of the mega-campaign to come out...
 

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Richard Jansen-Parkes

Richard Jansen-Parkes

Retreater

Legend
I had a lot of time to read the first four volumes of this campaign (and their companion volumes) while travelling across the U.S. on a very slow-moving train. The plot is excellent, the art is some of the best I've seen in any gaming book, and the NPCs and settings are fantastically written.
Even though I'm not big on the WFRP system, I can't wait to run this - likely converted to an OSR system.
 



Liane the Wayfarer

Frumious Flumph
To be fair, volume 4 here is brand new -- a replacement for the late, unlamented Something Rotten in Kislev, which was slotted in by corporate fiat, without regard to any ongoing plots. Volume 5, Empire in Ruins, will also be relatively new, replacing the somewhat-clunky Empire in Flames.
 



Yeah, I don't love the WFRP game mechanics, but the setting and world building are great, plus they are the usual high quality Cubicle 7 products.

I started reading the Gotrek & Felix novels, and they're fun. Skavenslayer is definitely the best; Grey Seer Thanquol is certainly an entertaining villain that matches the "marvelous mixture of hilarious and horrifying" described above.
 


TheSword

Legend
Cubicle 7’s release schedule was slow last year but to be fair to them they have stepped it up dramatically this year. In 7 months we’ve had the Power Behind the Throne and PBTT companion, Horned Rat and Horned Rat Companion, An Altdorf Sourcebook, An adventure Anthology of 6 new adventures and a guide to The Jungfreuds/Black Rock Duchy, A one shot adventure ‘Something Knocking’, an expansion of spells and A guide to the spider eye tribe.

In the next five months we’re expecting the last two more Enemy Within books, A second Archives of the Empire book, A guide to combat and warriors in the Empire, and a Bestiary Book. (They give monthly updates on progress and have been on the money all through this year)

That’s a hell of a lot of content. I think they were just hit by the Pandemic lockdowns last year that really affected the release schedule. To be fair they still are affected when it comes to the physical copies and Brexit/COVID.
 


TrippyHippy

Adventurer
To be fair, volume 4 here is brand new -- a replacement for the late, unlamented Something Rotten in Kislev, which was slotted in by corporate fiat, without regard to any ongoing plots. Volume 5, Empire in Ruins, will also be relatively new, replacing the somewhat-clunky Empire in Flames.
It wasn’t unlamented. I really loved Something Rotten in Kislev - one of the best adventures I’ve ever played in and run.

The problem was not that Something Rotten in Kislev wasn’t good, it was that it was incongruous to the rest of the Enemy Within Campaign. The author, Ken Rolston, was best known as a scenario writer and developer for West End Game’s Paranoia, and the feel of SRiK is very much in the same, slightly absurdist, situational comedy tone as that - except in the fantasy genre. It works on its own - and has some brilliant characters in it, including some bizarre minor Chaos Gods - and is hilarious fun.

Unfortunately, the rest of the Enemy Within campaign was written by a different set of authors and is much more the tone of a Call of Cthulhu style horror (that also happens to be in the fantasy genre). People found that jarring - it just didn’t fit.

In terms of the story, the main objective of the fourth installment of the Enemy Within Campaign is to get the PCs away from the goings on in the rest of the Empire in a side quest. This is a kind of distraction so that, when they come back in the fifth and final episode, they are shocked to find the ‘Empire in Flames/Chaos/Ruins’. The Horned Rat does that job in a way that is better tied in with the rest of the campaign, while its premise was already alluded to as a side campaign in the previous publications of Power Behind the Thrones and the Middenheim City Book.

That said, I hope Cubicle 7 can some day republish Something Rotten in Kislev too, as a standalone campaign. It is brilliant!
 


Hand of Evil

Adventurer
Epic
I wonder if they well ever detail something outside of the Empire.
Don't think so, everything to date is just republished material (no matter how much they say is new) and WFRP did not leave the empire. You are better looking to Fantasy Battles and the world information found in the old stuff.
 

Ixal

Adventurer
Don't think so, everything to date is just republished material (no matter how much they say is new) and WFRP did not leave the empire. You are better looking to Fantasy Battles and the world information found in the old stuff.
Not quite, WHFRP 2E had books about Kislev, Bretonnia and I think also dwarves and skaven.
 

TheSword

Legend
Don't think so, everything to date is just republished material (no matter how much they say is new) and WFRP did not leave the empire. You are better looking to Fantasy Battles and the world information found in the old stuff.
Are you joking? There’s never been a book on Altdorf? Ubersreik has never been detailed before? There are twelve adventures in Ubersreik Adventures 1&2? The Laurelorn Forest, The moot have both never been covered as in Archives of the Empire. The Horned Rat adventure is new. Are you even familiar with the work?

Incidentally Renegade Crowns, Lure of the Liche Lord, Doomstones, Lichemaster, Marienburg: Sold down the River, Knights of the Grail, Karak Azgal, Barony of the Damned and Realm of the Ice Queen, are all based outside the borders of the Empire. They’re all full supplements or adventures. I really don’t think you know what you’re talking about.
 
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Hand of Evil

Adventurer
Epic
Are you joking? There’s never been a book on Altdorf? Ubersreik has never been detailed before? There are twelve adventures in Ubersreik Adventures 1&2? The Laurelorn Forest, The moot have both never been covered as in Archives of the Empire. The Horned Rat adventure is new. Are you even familiar with the work?

Incidentally Renegade Crowns, Lure of the Liche Lord, Doomstones, Lichemaster, Marienburg: Sold down the River, Knights of the Grail, Karak Azgal, Barony of the Damned and Realm of the Ice Queen, are all based outside the borders of the Empire. They’re all full supplements or adventures. I really don’t think you know what you’re talking about.
Maybe, it is possible it is running all together from 1ed to 2nd, Fantasy Battles and White Dwarfs, the 'new' stuff reads like republished and not new.
 

Liane the Wayfarer

Frumious Flumph
The problem was not that Something Rotten in Kislev wasn’t good, it was that it was incongruous to the rest of the Enemy Within Campaign. The author, Ken Rolston, was best known as a scenario writer and developer for West End Game’s Paranoia, and the feel of SRiK is very much in the same, slightly absurdist, situational comedy tone as that - except in the fantasy genre. It works on its own - and has some brilliant characters in it, including some bizarre minor Chaos Gods - and is hilarious fun.
Eeeh... I mean, to each his own. But the adventures were very railroady to me. There are things the party has to do for the plot; when we played if felt flat. It introduced a bunch of gods nobody had heard of before. The two Chaos Gods introduced were put in for a joke. The one god tries to throw a spanner in the plans of the other Chaos gods, and his holy symbol is a monkeywrench. The other is about doubting the idea of gods altogether.

What I liked a lot was the way they had little faiths followed by the peasants for minor benefits. Good for farmers and such. I liked the flavor.

That said, I hope Cubicle 7 can some day republish Something Rotten in Kislev too, as a standalone campaign. It is brilliant!
I want them to update all the old material. I was jazzed they updated my favorite scenario, and then was devastated when they changed the key character from a gnome into a halfling.
 

Liane the Wayfarer

Frumious Flumph
Last night, it occurred to me that complaining about one module in the Enemy Within campaign as being excessively railroady is a little odd, considering the whole campaign has railroady elements. That's fair, and I should reread SRiK to see if memories of a terrible in-game play experience tainted the work.
 

TheSword

Legend
Maybe, it is possible it is running all together from 1ed to 2nd, Fantasy Battles and White Dwarfs, the 'new' stuff reads like republished and not new.
Those items I quoted are new.

Altdorf existed as a location but there has never been a source book for it. Even the Middenheim book which I didn’t add to my list is totally different to the original City of Chaos book and not a reprint.
 

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