We arrive at the famous 'Rough Night at Three Feathers' a scenario often regarded as one of GW's finest and an essential roleplaying experience for anyone treading the path of perilous adventure. But is it actually any good? Does it really deserve all the high praise bandied around on blogs and comments sections the world over?
I guess there is only one way to find out.
One of the main points to remember when discussing this adventure is that there are an awful lot of things going on all at once, with separate and interwoven plots carrying on - just like you'd imagine a night at such a bustling inn would have. Keeping track of all the events can be quite a challenge and I'd say this is one of the more complex adventures I have ever run for players. Quite how the players deal with it all is always amusing, and having played through this scenario a couple of times over the years I must admit to just winging it a few times.
I know from speaking to others, that some GMs really milk this adventure and run the differing plots as mini-adventures of their own, after all inn based stories are useful when running an adventure with the scope and breadth of the Enemy Within. Who wants to roleplay 'just another night in the inn' style events? I guess how you handle 'Rough Night at the Three Feathers' is up to you, there is after all plenty of scope to tweak the adventure to suit your needs and there are plenty of hooks to cook up into homebrew outings of your own. I feel that this flexibility is one of the reasons behind the popularity of this adventure and why it has become so memrable.
Oh, and before I continue. SPOILERS lie ahead.
As with scenarios of this type, the excitement begins after another one of those long day's of travel, with the sun just settling down at dusk as the PCs see an inn in the distance. As they draw closer you can explain how the place looks especailly busy this evening, with coaches unloading and all manner of folk rushing here and there. The presence of some burly looking lackeys, many of whom are dressed in brightly hued liveries, will tell you players that there is something a little out of the ordinary going on here.
Upon entering the establishment, our PCs will find that the inn is even busier than they expected and it may take some time to be served by the harrassed innkeeper. This provides a neat little opportunity to describe the inn and its patrons in a little more detail than usual and I used to have a field day inventing all kinds of stinking lowlifes and stuck up prigs to annoy my players.
Once your PCs get the chance to speak to the innkeeper they find him to be the Barliman Butterbur type (with, alas no 'Nob' character to make rude quips about) and he goes on to explain that his staff are all run off their feet because of the arrival of one Maria-Ulrike von Liebewitz, an Imperial noblewoman. Eventually, the PCs can choose their preferred method of staying, either renting a swanky room or dossing down on the floorboards. It is at this point that the adventure begins to differ from other run-of-the-mill inn adventures. As there is so much going on!
As I have said before, there are seven plots running concurrently and you may feel like removing some or jiggling around their order because on the surface the adventure seems an intimidating one. Don't be put off by the amount of plot you are having to carry, and in my view so many of the stories going on behind the scenes interrelate that having a good bash at the scenario is very worthwhile indeed. Having played through this one several times I cannot say things have ever gone the some way and your PCs will always throw so sort of spanner in the works and do something unexpected. Part of the fun is working out how the other characters will react when they do so.
Let's have a look at the plots in a little more detail shall we? First up, we have Maria-Ulrike von Liebewitz herself, and her entourage. She has been a naughty girl you see, and after partying too hard is suspected of being behind a death at one of her aunt's 'events'. Being a toff, she has envoked the ancient right of trial by combat and has in her employ a particularly lethal champion called Bruno. However, agents working for the slighted party (presumably the family of the unfortunate wretch who perished) are attempting to put Bruno out of action and swing the case in their favour. How they will attempt this remains to be seen!
Secondly, we have the young Graf Freidrich von Pfeifruacher who like many of his ilk is having an illicit affair with one Hanna Lastkahn, the daughter of one of the wealthy boatbuilding familes from Grissenwald. Sod's law has been enforced and they have been recognised by one of the servants in von Liebewitz's household. A blackmail attempt will shortly follow.
Then we have Gustaf Rechtshandler, von Liebewitz's lawyer, who in his younger days dabbled with dubious people and was at one time an unwitting member of a chaos cult of Slaanesh. Despite walking away from the group some years past, it seems that the cultists now want something from him. I doubt it will be to ask how his mother is.
Moving on, Hanna's affair with her young lover hasn't gone as unregarded as she would have hoped. Her bethrothed has found out about their little tryst and desires a little street justice on Graf Freidrich von Pfeifruacher no matter the consequences.
While all this is going on, group of ne'er do well smugglers are shifting a suspicious cargo, only this isn't contraband but human merchandise. An agitator, wanted for political crimes, named Josef Aufwiegler, has been drugged and placed into a death-like trance to help ship him away from the danger. The smugglers are dressed like Initiates of Morr, robes and all, and the drug was timed to wear off as soon as they get him on board their boat. Sadly, they have been delayed and are now in a bit of bother.
Their troubles continue thanks to Ursula Kopfgeld, a bounty hunter, who is hot on their trail. She was close to catching Josef when he 'died' and is suspicious of the matter.
Finally, the wonderfully named Glimbrin Oddsocks, a Gnomish pickpocket, has plans to lift just about anything he can get his thieving little hands on over the evening. Let's just hope the PCs keep their possessions close to their persons what with everything else goining on!
The bulk of the scenario that follows is an intricate timeline of events inside the inn. As you would imagine, the various plot threads intertwine in numerous ways until the adventurers become embroiled in the main event. Looking back, the best vantage point for the PCs is always the Bar-Room, as it is here that they will get the chance to notice the varying 'funny goings on' during the night. Whatever they do, you can pretty much guarantee that they will become embroiled in the brawl with Thomas Prahmhandler and his associates (he being the jilted groom-to-be of the lovely Hanna) and that a memorable dagger (or other dangerous object - and you can have some fun with this) will disappear from the possession of one of the PCs and reappear wedged between the shoulder blades of the unfortunate Bruno.
Our players will be charged with his murder and locked up for the night. Von Liebewitz will officiate the preceedings and this is a fantastic opportunity to put the fear of the Gods into your players. With a guard on the door and one on sentry beneath their window, the future doesn't look too bright and as GM, you can make all those noises that suggest that the PCs have made a grave error indeed and that there is very little that can be done to help extract them from their dire circumstances.
Of course, they will be saved at the eleventh hour by von Liebewitz. She will explain that her harsh treatment of them was just an act to stablise the situation, and having ordered the rest of the inn's clientele to remain in their rooms until sunrise she is now free to speak to the PCs. Her instructions to them are not plain sailing however, having initially surmised that no-one is going to be stupid enough to leave their own dagger sticking out of the person they just murdered, and that the PCs can clearly handle themselves, she picks the toughest looking in the party to act as her new champion. She is after all on her way to trial and now lacks a suitable champion to fight in her corner. Once the players realise that this isn't an offer, but an order, they will just have to lump the fact that their fate is tied to her for the short term, at least.
However, von Liebewitz isn't the only patron available to the PCs. Gustaf Rechtshandler will also try and contact them to deal with the blackmail situation, and by deal he means killing those cultists in the most direct way possible. If your players have a history with dealing with the shadowy denizens of the cultist world, this kind of mission may well appeal to them and as GM you have two ways on handling this approach. Have them deal with these malcontents before they are accused of murder (as their attempts to cover up the bloodletting may come undone) as a prologue to the main business with the high born lady, or concurrently - which is my preferred option. Having so much skullduggery going on will give the PCs some real food for thought and provide a series of interesting challenges to overcome. Having to tiptoe around with all this funny business going on also creates a tense, nervewrangling atmosphere.
As you will imagine, the latter is my preferred option, though I have attempted both when running this scenario. One character worth exploring who is, by her very nature, hard to keep tabs on, and your PCs may miss entirely if they become too self absorbed, is Ursula. We have spoken about her before and if you recall, she is the tough as nails bounty hunter on the trail of Josef Aufwiegler, the agitator currently doped in a bedroom above. Though she connects with Bruno after the arm wrestling affair (more on that later) the PCs may not be there to witness it and the character of Ursula is inclined to keep herself to herself.
Working her into the narrative is essential in my view, otherwise things won't dawn on the players later on.
Whoever they work for, and whatever approaches the PCs take towards dealing with the problems that face them, the morning will dawn and a sea of corpses and blood will greet the players. Some of the killings will no doubt be some of their work, but some of the others will be unexplained. If like me, you don't like leaving your players in the dark once play has ended, you may want a 'Scooby-Doo' style character to explain the goings on to the PCs if they are too docile to work it out for themselves; one would hope they could piece the clues together themselves but this is not always possible.
Whatever the outcome, they will still have the situation with Von Liebewitz to play through, and this is a plot line I can heartedly recommend. The whole business of violent judiciary is quite appealing and I would encourage the nasty GM to only inform the players that the trial of combat is only to first blood just as they are to step out onto the arena.
Obviously, I have skimmed over a great deal of detail and the scenario is really very well worth a read if you are never going to play it through. To return to the question I posed at the beginning of this post 'is it actually any good?' all I can say is YES. I really does, at least to me, live up to it's reputation and in some places, exceedes it. Let me explain in more detail.
For me, a great scenario is a tool kit of ideas, and having always found adhering to published rules and lore/fluff tiresome, nothing could be more natural than jumbling or altering ideas to suit my whim and I have always felt that such an approach heightened the experience for my players. But there needs to be the scope to do so. The building blocks need to be there before the tweaking can begin and 'Rough Night' has very deep foundations. The myriad plots help a great deal and as there is so much going on it really keeps players on their toes, even if they are fielding competant characters and have mastered WFRP's game system. The scenario could easily unfold over a single night's gaming if a speed-run is required but a slower burning approach is also possible, perhaps even held in real time over a long night's gaming.
A great scenario also requires strong and varied characters. Again, 'Rough Night' serves them up in spades. Chaos cultists, babbling barkeeps, rough and ready bodyguards, drunks, champions and lords and ladies to boot. In fact, it is the addition of the strong, female characters that I enjoyed the most about 'Rough Night'. To begin with, Von Liebewitz seems just like any number of stereotypical rich woman. Vain, rude and powerful, but as the scenario plays out you discover that she is far more astute than you originally think. Yes, she has all the trappings and views of elite society, but she has an authority and presence that I have always found appealling. Von Liebewitz is also a great NPC contact for the longer campaign, if the PCs can stay on her positive side. Hardened adventures willing to do the dirty work have always had a close relationship with the rich, powerful and slightly corrupt. Obviously, she is no chaos worshipper and will have her own, probably self-serving agendas, but there is proper mileage in her association with the PCs and can be used as a useful tool for settings up further scenarios.
Ursula the bounty hunter is also a great character. No string chainmail bikinis here nor any overtly sexualised nonsense. She is a tough, capable character with lethally efficient methods. Certainly a useful character to run into again on the rode for the purpose of a good bandit hunt or headtake. A while ago, I wrote an article about women in Warhammer and can see both Von Liebewitz and Ursula fitting the more positive role for females in 1980s Warhammer. Afterall, there were a sizable number of female roleplayers back then, probably far more than indulge in the latest offerings of steriod infused 40k these days, and so characters like these are more than just 21st century window dressing. History has parallels of both Von Liebewitz and Ursula, and sadly these historical figures are mosty retconned or 'reimagined' for our times by sexing them up and dunking them in the fountain of youth. Doing so, waters down their achievements as real human beings doing interesting things in my view and 'Rough Night' makes no attempt to do either with its fictional heroines.
Atmosphere is also crucial to a great adventure, if not key. Anyone who has rolled dice around a fantasy RPG, either paper, miniature or polygon based, will have lurked for a while in a smokey tavern or inn. They have a vibe that appeals to the subject matter and envokes hazy memories in our own minds. Most of us who have actually lived will be able to appreciate what a bustling, slightly dangerous drinking establishment is like and will understand the dangers of strong alcohol, tobacco and the opposite sex combined. Chucking a slice of chaos and a dollop of duplicity into that potent mix is an exciting prospect, even if the visuals and odours are figments of our imaginations. My opinion that chaos needs to remain the 'spice' of WFRP (and indeed Warhammer) is also well supported by 'Rough Night'. Too much chilli ruins a meal, while the right amount can add just enough heat to make things interesting. The goings on are also covert, and the negligent PC may miss what is actually going on. 'Rough Night' doesn't expect you to have your hand held and subsequently is all the more enjoyable for it- just think about the difference in roleplaying between Morrowind and Skyrim to understand what I mean.
A great scenario must also bring something new to a game system, no matter how small. 'Rough Night' does this in the guise of armwrestling. This is a great timewaster or filler, depending on your viewpoint, and can be used to liven up most evenings when otherwise your characters would be doing nothing. PCs always love to gamble with their non-existant cash flow and I can think of no better way of encouraging this than with matches of this type. Thinking about it now, and entire aventure could be made of the game, based on the gloriously '80s action flick staring Stallone entitled 'Over the Top'. Arm wrestling has mileage too, you know!
So to conclude, 'A Rough Night at the Three Feathers' deserves its praise and has been, for me at least, one of the greatest shorter scenarios ever written from WFRP, if not any system. I am sure that many of you will have very fond memories of the adventure and that for some, new memories as I suspect the scenario is still regularly played wherever old school WFRP raises its battered mug. Graeme Davis is credited as being the author in the Restless Dead edition of the scenario (which I have used for this article) and Jamie Sims for the illustrations. With both those individuals having been interviewed here on Realm of Chaos 80s about their contributions to '80s Warhammer, 'Rough Night' has a very strong pedigree indeed.
Thank you to both gents for putting it all together for us Old Schoolers all those years ago.