I'm reading through the published adventures available for Cubicle 7's Wrath and Glory Warhammer RPG. Bloody Gates is the first part of a quartet of adventures, followed by On the Wings of Valkyries, Lord of the Spire, and Affliction Ascendant. This is an interesting series, because it's not sequential. Instead, they're four adventures set during the same military campaign to liberate Tora Armis, a minor hive spire on the Hive World of Gilead Primus. In fact, the opening sequence of On the Wings of Valkyries is seen in the distance by players in section 3 of this adventure. It's a fascinating technique and although I haven't played these adventures at the time of writing this blog post, I do like the concept.
This review contains spoilers.
In Bloody Gates, the framework is the Penal Brigade. Players start the game as prisoners, sentenced to service in a brigade called the Gilead Gravediggers. The Gravediggers consists of around 80,000 Imperial citizens, most hoping to earn freedom through acts of valour. In reality, the Gravediggers are a blunt instrument used by the generals who need to overwhelm an enemy with numbers.
The adventure is Tier 1, so it suggests that the Imperial Guardsman Archetype is most appropriate. It's flexible enough, however, for an Adepta Sororitas or Ministorum Priest Archetype serving in the Gravediggers as mentors, or even an Inquistorial Acolyte working undercover.
This is one of those rare adventures that manages to come as close to a skirmish war game as possible while remaining an RPG. You're dropped into battle almost immediately, and from then on you're on the battlefield, pushing ever forward against impossible odds. You move from objective to objective, taking orders from your general as you go.
In the first part of the adventure, the players are delivered to an outer wall of Tora Armis's fortifications in a Chimera transport. Assuming they make it to the wall, they have to scale it and disable an anti-tank gun turret, while dodging enemy combatants in foxholes along the way. It's basically impossible, and that's just the first part.
Then the second part happens, assuming the player characters are still alive. Now that they've taken out the gun, the Leman Russ tanks roll in to advance. The players are told to go out in front and clear a path for the tanks by finding and disarming landmines. Unfortunately for the players, there are enemy strike teams in the minefield, so they have to contend with that too.
Part three takes place at the eponymous bloody gates into the city, and part four takes place on the ground level of the spire. There are complications every step of the way, and it's not always just the obvious battlefield stuff. There are moments of chilling social interaction, with allies out on the field, strangers of unknown allegiance, citizens caught in the crossfire, and lots more.
The booklet's layout is the same as Graveyard Shift, with clear statements of the player's immediate goals at the top of each major section. it's the one of the friendliest layouts in an RPG I've ever seen, and I wish more systems would adopt it.
The only complaint (if you can call it that) about the book is that stat blocks are in the back of the book instead of the section where the enemy appears. I'm not saying that's the wrong choice, because I think it's a legitimately efficient method of providing stat blocks. I do tend to prefer stat blocks to appear in the flow of the story, though. It just tends to work a little better for me.
Then again, with a good bookmarking system, it's arguably better in the back of the book than integrated into the story. After all, what happens when you suddenly decide you need a low-level soldier stat block in a section that the book itself doesn't call for one? If the stat blocks are stuck in the back of the book, you know exactly where to turn.
It's an easy booklet to use, and for whatever fault I find in its design, several of the Wrath & Glory adventures are easy to follow and easy to use.
I don't know what it's like to be in a war zone, and I don't ever care to find out. I have no need for a realistic simulation of war, either. This adventure has opportunities for cinematic heroism and cinematic moral dilemma. That's goood enough for me. This adventure is as close to the stress of war I ever want to get, and even in the safety of imagination, this can hit pretty hard in some scenes.
Images from this adventure have stayed with me since reading it. Conscripted soldiers cowering in fear as they're being threatened at gunpoint by their Commissar. Refugees pouring out of a city that's been overrun by a fundamtalist cult. Eyes peering out of foxholes. Decimated cities.
It's all standard stuff for a wargame, but you don't think about how the setting is affected by the shift from playing with a bunch of toy soldiers surrounded by plastic terrain to the limitless depths of your own imagination. It can become an all-too real kind of horror, so this may not be an adventure to take on lightly. If you're going to run this adventure, warn your players that it contains the horrors of war, and stay flexible as you run it. This is a relentless storyline, and for the right gaming group it's very very good.
Next is On the wings of valkyries, which is equally as powerful but with a fascinating aspect of hopefulness in it.
All images in this post copyright Games Workshop.