The Dying of the Light
Author: Lea Crowe, Lief Eriksson and Stefan Karlsson, Phil Masters, Sandy Mitchell, Chris Pramas, Anthony Ragan, Andrew Rilstone, James Wallis, Ken and Jo Walton
Company/Publisher: Hogshead Publishing
Line: Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay
Cost: $AUS 32.50
Page count: 128
ISBN: 1 899749 047
Playtest Review by Jody Macgregor on 10/26/00.
Genre tags: Fantasy Horror
DYING OF THE LIGHT (DotL) is a short campaign for WFRP, set in and around Marienburg (mostly around). It was Hogshead's first original supplement for the game and was bound to be set upon in a frenzy by rabid fans. It was voted Worst Adventure at some place or other.
First off, let me tell you why I don't long like big pre-written adventures: they don't work. I've played in and run a few of them in my time and they've never worked out real well (see my review for Shadows Over Bogenhafen). Certainly never as well as the optimistic writers expected. The groups I've played with just won't stick with a plot for the length of time a full adventure requires. Short ones ripped out of magazines are fine, but anything else ends in tragedy. Players inevitably go off on tangents, attempt to kill major NPCs, or just start pointing out holes in the plot.
Now that I've said all that, let me tell you why I love DotL.
The players start out on their way to Marienburg to pick up a rare book for some fusty old academic, but on arrival they get caught up in the events preceding an eclipse and a mysterious disaster to go with it, and get sent off into the countryside to find the one thing that can save the city, blah blah. Then a different writer takes over.
Every chapter is written by someone different, except for the first, last and central chapters which I gather are written by Messrs Rilstone and Wallis to keep the story making sense. Each writer got to pen an individual scenario, and did it in their unique style. Some readers won't like the lack of unity, but I find it refreshing. After a complicated city investigation comes a straightforward Indiana Jones adventure, and so on. The adventures are linked together, but a skilled GM could easily sever some from the rest, and that's the beauty of DotL. It's not one big adventure; it's ten short ones. In that spirit, I'll review them separately. Massive spoilers here of course, so if you shouldn't be here get lost. You know who you are.
PROLOGUE: Error of the Moon 
The PCs arrive in Marienburg trying to track down an old scholar and a book, and get caught up in the general panic about the coming eclipse. Eventually, they find the adventure patron (or he finds them) and they're off on a mission to find the whatsit that might just save everyone.
For a prologue, it sure is long. In fact, I think it's the longest scenario in the book. It relies rather a lot on the players questioning the right people and finding out the right clues to find the next lead and so on, but there are helpful 'outs' for if – when your players screw up. The scenario is written in a more conversational tone than you might be used to, in fact the whole book is, and that's a good thing. Everything reads like a suggestion, not the voice of the great god Guy-Gaks telling you how the story should proceed. There's only one chunk of boxed text and it's preceded by the sentence: "If you are the sort of GM who likes to read sections of text out loud . . ."
Error of the Moon would be hard to lift out and run by itself, as it's one of three 'plot-advancing' adventures that can't really be separated. You could just rip the three of them out and run a very short campaign of them, or you could steal a couple of choice encounters (a Monty Python witch trial scene and a mysterious piper who leads some drunks on a merry wander would be my choices) and ignore the rest. Or you could run the whole campaign, I suppose.
A WATERY GRAVE
This is the Indiana Jones adventure, complete with collapsing walkways, torrents of water, a giant octopus and a shirtload of Undead. Incredibly easy to lift, all you need is your PCs tramping through the wilderness and an old enemy to show up and make life hard for them. Pretty common elements in most campaigns.
WHEREVER YOU MAY BE
A strong protracted roleplaying encounter with the mysterious piper mentioned above. He's an interesting character, and the players have various options when dealing with him and the events he triggers. For those interested in playing the scenario by itself, you'd need to rethink the NPC's motivations, but then again, he's an embodiment of Chaos – his actions don't need to make sense.
This brings up a point that recurs through the whole book; lack of information for the PCs. It's entirely possible that a group could play through every single adventure and still not really know what's been going on by the end of it all. Realistic I suppose, but a bummer for the players. I guess that's another argument for ditching the overarching plot and running the best parts independently.
Wherever is one of the best parts.
BURN THEM! BURN THEM!
BT! BT! has two main things going for it. It features the Fimir, one of Warhammer's most original and underused monsters, and it has an Alan Moore reference.
It's got the atmosphere right too. The Fimir are a nasty bunch, and any scenario featuring them should punch the darkness up a notch. The plot is simple; PCs have item, Fimir want item. The players may not figure this out and assume the attacks are standard bad guy behaviour (which they are). There's a couple of interesting NPCs (including a witch hunter who shows up again later) and the ending promises to be big, messy and violent.
BACK TO THE EGG
Another 'Plot' scenario, in which the PCs find the whatsit and discover it's not really a whatsit after all. The Egg they've been chasing to prevent the demon Zahnarzt returning during the eclipse . . . hang on, have I explained this? It doesn't really matter. The Egg turns out to be a little girl with some strange powers anyway, and she's one of the most irritating NPCs ever created. GMs will love her.
Getting the Egg involves a fair bit of roleplaying, but there are a couple of possible combats in this chapter as well. The scene in which the PCs take the little girl away from her mutant parents is quite touching, in a disturbed way.
THE PLACE OF TESTING
The Fimir return, and the party gets to slay rather a lot of them. This chapter's much more violent than the others, in a Michael Moorcock kind of way, and if a party of quiet academic and roguish types (who could survive the earlier scenarios, they're full of helpful NPCs and alternatives to violence) got this far they'd probably be massacred. There is one potential ally, a sorcerer of Malal, and a cool NPC he is too, but not enough of a combat machine to carry a wimpy party through.
Whinging aside, it's another quality piece. The Forest of Corpses, the possessed Fimir bursting with worms and other goriness will keep me and the 14-year-old males of the world happy. A small dose of hack and slash can be fun if it's done right.
If Jim Henson were alive to make a movie set in the Warhammer World, the Colony would be that movie. That's a compliment.
The PCs take refuge at a camp full of friendly mutants, but their former friend the witch hunter from BT! BT! shows up and things get messy. WFRP's mutants are one of my favourite aspects of the setting, they're twisted and ugly and hated by everyone, but they're not all evil. That doesn't stop people treating them like Orcs though.
The scenes of daily life among the mutants are charming, even when they're sick. The climax favours roleplaying over combat. What more could you want?
The PCs and the Egg are finally nearing Marienburg again, when they fall in with a troupe of crazy actors on their way to the city that anyone with half a brain is fleeing. The actors are a magnet for weird behaviour, the coming eclipse and the fact that one of them is a Chaos cultist (makes a change from the usual nobles and merchants) has warped reality around them, and some of the elements of their plays are becoming real.
This is my favourite chapter for sheer bizarreness and well-rounded NPCs. Sure, they're all nuts, but they're completely nuts. The PCs get to sit in or help out with a few plays performed on the road, with the obvious Shakespeare references, and then the strangeness starts. A wooden dagger stabs someone to death. A stuffed bird comes to life. The actors become their roles.
I love confusing and shocking my players, and this scenario gives plenty of that. The ending's a little disappointing (a necromancer shows up and tries to kidnap the Egg during a play) but a GM can probably think up something cleverer. Perhaps the characters are sucked into the setting of a play, or Will Pikewaver, playwright, shows up in person (despite being centuries dead) to loudly berate everyone for murdering his art.
TRIAL AND ERROR
The episodic nature of DotL has another advantage, if you don't like a scenario it can be easily skipped. Trial and Error is the one I would skip.
The Egg acts up and the PCs get arrested, suspected of kidnapping or something, and one of those nasty Chaos cultists who show up in the damnedest places is the magistrate at their trial. It's not a bad idea, a courtroom drama scenario, except for one thing. The best outcome to the adventure (party found innocent, judge's secret uncovered, he vanishes in a puff of smoke) relies on the players noticing that he knows too much and that he waits some time before producing some (fake) testimonies. You'd have to have some pretty great roleplayers for that to happen. If an NPC knows too much, I assume it's the GM's screwup, not a clue. It's the kind of mistake that amateur GMs make all the time, and players just get used to it.
The other options (a prison break and my preference, a blackly comic bungled execution) are better, and I'm glad there are other endings, but I can see a lot of players getting frustrated by the whole thing and bitching at the GM for bad roleplaying the whole time.
WHEN DARKNESS FALLS
Finally the PCs return to Marienburg and set about finding out how to use the Egg to stop the dentist's return. At the last minute an order of priests kidnap the Egg for the same reasons, but have the wrong way of doing it. Now the characters must prevent a ritual that wouldn't work and then perform one that will to halt Zahnarzt's return.
The race against time feeling is omnipresent, and the ending is climatic but open-ended. I'd have the piper show up again just as both groups are trying to perform their respective rituals and get everybody dancing. It'd be like Saturday Night Fever with daggers and a virgin.
The epilogue's a great idea, explaining the consequences of various events. It reminds me of those old cop movies, "Joe Skinner went on to write a best-selling novel about his experience, but Minnie ended up doing time for crimes against humanity . . ."
DotL requires a somewhat heroic attitude from the characters, so I told my players to make their characters good guys. I got a necromancer, an assassin, and a noble based on the personality of Blackadder in the second series.
I was . . . tired and emotional at the time, otherwise I would have vetoed them, but I pressed on. The first session was short, and we managed to drag out a 'during the journey' encounter for most of the time, but we actually roleplayed characters with personalities, which was something of a departure after playing AD&D for a while.
My players have a bad habit of believing the first rumour they hear in a pub, no matter how stupid it is. So when they walked into an Inn and started asking around about current events, I made sure to have two crotchety old men answer the question different ways and then start arguing, so the players wouldn't know what to believe. It worked. Then they asked the landlord and just believed what he said to the exclusion of all else.
The piper led them through the streets during the first night, then when the Watch showed up he stepped into a dead end alleyway and turned into a swarm of rats. The characters, the Watch and a crowd of other drunks went into the alley and found no trace of him. One of the characters had a lackey who was a rat catcher (modelled on Baldric), whose main advantage was a small but vicious dog. One of the PCs tried to get the dog to follow the piper's scent, so he started barking at the rats. "What do you expect," said another player. "He's a rat catcher's dog."
Somehow I kept a straight face. One of the players was haunted by this scene and tried to figure it out for days afterwards. Eventually he tracked me down and said, "I've figured out how he vanished! All he did was walk into the alley, then when all those people followed him in, he pretended to be one of the drunks!"
They followed leads and actually got a fair distance through the prologue before finding a tangent. Deciding that Marienburg was in for some heavy weather, they moved into an abandoned building and started outfitting it with security measures. Pretty soon, this was all they were doing, digging pits, buying supplies, generally acting like survivalists confronted by a millennium. Only one of the party members occasionally left to follow leads, and he wasn't the brightest one. I hate being the kind of GM who throws plot hooks at the players like an overzealous fisherman, so I didn't. And they went further down their own road, and DotL eventually vanished in the distance. But they had fun.
I can see why people didn't like this scenario. It's extremely linear, leading the players from one chapter to the next by their noses, and it's a lot of hard work. But on the other hand, it's one of the best-written supplements I've ever read. It's funny, conversational, and between the lines it explains what a good roleplaying session should be like. Gamers are willing to put up with a lot of crappy writing in their game books, but good writing should be encouraged at every opportunity. Even if I never use half of DotL, I enjoyed reading it. That's far too rare in gaming.
One of these days I'll weave Burn Them! Burn Them! and the Colony and the Place of Testing together into some kind of mini-campaign. I'll run Transformation Moon once I plot out a new ending. I'll steal NPCs and encounters liberally from the rest. These ideas are too good to let die.
 Added bonus game in this chapter: Spot the NPCs based on game designers! I found Carl Sargent and John Tynes, how about you?
 Boxed text is one of my pet hates. When the GM shoves his nose in the book and starts droning 500 words of exposition in that curious atonal voice GMs have, the players stop listening. Always. I much prefer some notes so I can fill in the details myself while actually talking to the players, rather than reading at them. Apparently, so do the writers of DotL.
 Zahnarzt sounds like a cool name for a demon, unless you speak German in which case you'll know it means 'dentist.' Now I find dentists pretty scary myself, but apparently some German players didn't. Of course, to English ears Zahnarzt sounds like the kind of word H. P. Lovecraft might utter while choking on a turkey, but that's neither here nor there.
 Malal fans rejoice! You are not forgotten, and you even get a new spell. It's just a blue fireball, but who cares, it's new!
-- http://www.topend.com.au/~jm/index.htmStyle: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)