18 September 2019
Capers and carnage in the world of Warhammer
You may not think that the tangled plotlines and noble dramas of Shakespearean comedy would fit in with the blood-soaked darkness of the Warhammer Fantasy RPG, but Rough Nights & Hard Days somehow manages to pull it off, blending drunken barons, masked lovers and murderous rat-men into a series of enjoyable – if slightly messy – adventures.
The first campaign of WFRP’s fourth edition, the book is divided up into five adventures that can theoretically be plundered for one-off quests but slot together into a cohesive whole. What starts off as a chance meeting with a noblewoman’s retinue in a roadside tavern pulls the party into a series of parties, weddings and formal duels, every one of which is interrupted by up to a half-dozen side-plots that all compete for the spotlight.
The opening adventure, for example, has a main thread revolving around a fateful run-in with the party’s future employer and the murder of her champion fighter. At the same time, however, the noblewoman’s lawyer is quarrelling with some villainous old companions, a local noble is facing the consequences of his philandering ways and a band of smugglers are running into difficulties with their unwilling cargo. Oh, and a charming pickpocket is running about the place, stealing whatever he can and generally being a distraction.
If that sounds like a lot of plates to keep in the air, that’s because it is. Each of these threads could probably be spun out into their own adventure without too much difficulty, and keeping track of who’s doing what and where everything is requires a solid amount of both preparation and improvisation on the GM’s side.
When things flow smoothly, however, the mishmashed plots and activities filling the room create a wonderful feeling of vitality. The intentionally messy nature proceedings create the illusion of a living, breathing world where people are always scheming and acting on their own, regardless of whether the players pay attention to them or not.
In order to help you keep track of events the bulk of every adventure is broken up into short, time-stamped paragraphs that tell you what happens throughout the day. This does an admirable job of providing a rather solid script to plan around, but it does all come across as rather prescriptive. Confident and experienced GMs will probably be happy to take them as the suggestions that they truly represent, but if you’re new it can be incredibly daunting if – or, more likely, when – the players' actions throw things wildly off course.
Even with these reservations factored in, the adventures are still incredibly fun and well-worth a look from any WFRP group. However, the decision of whether to use the book as a campaign or a handful of isolated adventures is an unexpectedly tricky one.
If you just looked at the plot and the events that drive it forward, it seems pretty clear that you could run the entire thing from end-to-end without too much difficulty. This makes things easy for the GM and allows them to get the most out of the themes and characters that punctuate the entire collection – so why would you ever choose to split them up?
The biggest issue is one of repetition. This seems like an odd complaint for a book so stuffed with ideas and imagination, but the problem isn’t with the content of the various adventures so much as their tone. Every one of them follows the same rough structure and, despite their differences in the broad strokes, the deluge of side-plots and distractions starts feeling rather familiar once you’ve been through a couple of them.
Again, this is an issue that can be side-stepped with a bit of confidence and gusto from the GM. Nothing specifies that the adventures need to take place directly after one another and the lengthy gaps between engagements can take the form of more straightforward palate cleansers drawn from other sources.
Rough Nights & Hard Days is a solid recommendation for any WFRP fans looking to mix up their games or launch an interesting campaign. It can be daunting at times, and players looking for simple punch-ups and battles may get frustrated with the complex plots and scheming getting in the way of their fun, but when it works well it can kick off some wonderful roleplaying.
PLAY IT? – YES
A slice of high-society farce mixed with Warhammer Fantasy’s ink-black humour and bloodlust that isn’t the simplest campaign out there, but is among the most entertaining.
Designer: Graeme Davis, Andy Law, Ben Scerri
This review originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.