The Night of Blood was Jim Bambra's first solo effort (as far as I can tell) for WFRP. As we have previously seen, the other authors of this exquisite game (namely, Phil Gallagher and Graeme Davis) had already had a crack at crafting articles for the system and issue 87 of White Dwarf saw Bambra join the club.
Years ago, when I was an avid roleplay supplement reader, I always took the moniker 'Bambra' to be a sign of quality and as we have learnt over the years Jim was part of the TSR crowd that jumped from a sinking ship to join the GW Design Studio in the mid part of the 1980s. This scenario bears all of the hallmarks of Jim Bambra's reliable workmanship for here we have a solid, well written adventure that provides plenty of opportunities for roleplaying, action and PC death and dismemberment. It is also noteworthy for having been illustrated by the great Russ Nicholson of Warlock of Firetop Mountain fame.
The introductory paragraph describes this adventure as being set within the Empire (and the republication of the scenario in The Restless Dead decreed the adventure as being perfect for players in the early part of their careers) and takes place on one of the many desolate roadways (or rivers) of that gigantic nation. Though I have never run this scenario myself, I would consider it to be a pretty tough situation for any PC to be in, and the fact that Night of Blood was later advertised as being for players just starting off, reminds me how WFRP (or Jim Bambra himself) was very, very tough on players at times.
Now before I continue I really must warn about SPOILERS. I shall be discussing the characters, narrative and outcomes of this scenario in some detail and I wouldn't want to spoil the enjoyment of this adventure for others, so if you would prefer to remain in the dark over the events at the Hooded Man Inn then simply stop reading now.
The scenario starts like many a classic Warhammer tale - along a forest road as night falls. There is, of course, a strong sense of Lord of the Rings in these episodes, with the terrified hobbits (and Bill) being replaced with our grubby adventurers, while beastmen step in to play the fell Ringwraiths of Sauron's legion. Classic fantasy fodder.
The poor weather and rumbling thunder adds to the natural foreboding of the adventurer's plight. Strange noises and unnatural cries can be heard from the undergrowth as the two beastmen and four mutants hunt an unfortunate stag. Looking at the scenario afresh, and thinking about the players I had under my auspices, this little group of blighters would have made a dangerous situation far worse and character deaths (or at least hideous injury) could have been likely. The Hammer House of Horroresque flash of lightening, with all of its distant illumination of possible safety, would have sent my players scurrying towards the Hooded Man with haste.
Knowing my PCs, they would have headed straight for the main gates and would have been somewhat thwarted by the fact that doors were securely locked. If they had been adventurous enough to resist the urge to bunk over the wall (my players always had a tendency to thieve, rather than being stalwart citizens of the Empire) and went on to discover the ferry, even their suspicions would have been aroused.
This whole sequence builds up superb atmosphere. The driving rain, the thunder and lightening and the mysterious nature of the coaching inn's entranceways would no doubt raise many questions and possible theories. I would have encouraged this immensely and putting on my best Tregard from Knightmare voice would made several 'Ooo nasty' like remarks. With paddling across the river in the ferryboat the only option for dignified PCs, the slight of the lights in the inn's windows would have been welcome indeed.
More seasoned adventurers would perhaps make a recce of the inn's environs before approaching the inn's doorway. Again, this sequence would be wonderfully atmospheric if handled with care. Desolate outbuildings, the bric-a-brac of living in a coaching inn dotted here and there, the ubiquitous rain and the odd squeaking gate flapping in the wind all adding to the tension. Horror, like chaos, is the spice of such adventures and game systems and one of the biggest mistakes of GW post Ansell, was overegging the pudding when it came to the Ruinous Powers. They became so common place as to lose their impact. The scene involving Grat and the stable boy is horrific and so well designed by Bambra as to invoke that dramatic sense of dread classic slasher films produce. To save you reading through the scenario yourself, I will run through the situation as perhaps my PCs would have proceeded.
They would have heard the unsettled noises of the horses long before they reached the doorway, though I doubt they'd have been careful enough not to prevent the horses stampeding out into the pouring rain without a bump or bruise or two. Their almost ritualistic need to pilfer and loot would have overcome them even inside a stable and the inevitable 'searching for traps' swiftly followed by 'searching from treasure' would have burst forth in quick succession. They would have found neither, though the sound of something moving above them may have been heard. Exploring the upper hayloft would have caused them to discovered the mutilated form of the stable boy, his stomach no doubt torn open and his entrails half consumed.
Gruesome stuff, and the sort of macabre horror the more child friendly version of Warhammer would swerve swiftly away from post '92. My players would have explored the hatch leading to the roof and found the blood leading into the thatch. I would have made a great deal out of the fact that 'something' had been eating the lad, but their natural cowardice would have prevented them going any further I suspect. I would have suggested visiting the inn itself to report the grisly find, though explaining the loss of the horses and the fact they'd been lurking around in someone else's property would have unsettled them further.
The tone of the adventure switches as soon as the PCs enter the inn proper, and this again provides evidence about just how good a scenario writer Bambra is. After the horrors of the night, the situation now shifts to the charade of the inn's company. Otto the enormously fat landlord stand in (the occupants of the inn are in fact Tzeentch cultists in disguise), would fuss about anxiously while Hans, the would-be roadwarden, would eye the PCs suspiciously. Good roleplaying would really come to the fore here, with the GM acting out the roles of Otto and Hans with suitable gusto. As the players talked over their plans, I would have dropped in various red herrings about not wanting to mention the fact that you've found the body of a dead boy to the powers that be.
Looking over the sequence of events so far only furthers the fact that this is an outstanding adventure that could easily provide everything that makes WFRP wonderful in an evening's play. Combat outside in the forest, stealth and mystery as the PCs explore the inn's compound and the unusual roleplaying inside the coaching inn proper. As a GM, I would have particularly enjoyed bringing these two characters to life, and confusing my players in the process. Knowing them, they would have played along with the act for a while as they thrashed out what to do next.
At some point the GM needs to have Hans accuse the players of being bandits and the threat of exposure due to the death of the stable boy would have wound them up further. I would have made them work hard to prove their innocence and then set up the situation for the PCs to expose the skullduggery going on.
By now, even the most inept PCs would have fathomed that something was wrong at the Hooded Man Inn, though whether or not they would have discovered the threat of Kurts or not is best left to the imagination. As with all of the best scenarios for WFRP, The Night of Blood adds additional background to the game - and kurts is a powerful sedative drug useful for further adventures. The cultists plan to use the stuff to knock out the adventurers and add their sleeping forms to the sacrifices-to-be currently locked in the cellar.
Fagor, the bulging eyed mutant, would make the perfect waiter to bring out the drugged food Julie Walter's style and this scene could be played for sinister laughs ( I think it would be a cruel GM who wouldn't allow their players to cotton on to the fact that the inn's occupants are trying to do them in here). Whatever happens, and Bambra is careful to let toughness tests give the PCs a chance to overcome the drug if they are foolish enough to consume it, everyone retires to bed as the evening draws to a close. The sound of the lock trapping the PCs into their filthy room as Otto bids them goodnight would no doubt set forth another bout of player discussion. Here, Bambra gives the GM so many options with the narrative - if your players know nothing of the kurts in their food you could opt to tell them that they feel a strong pull of sleep as they talk. Perhaps several players should suddenly doze off, leaving the others bewildered and frightened of what to do next.
Bambra's climax is as excellent as the rest of the adventure and provides so many possibilities for players and GMs I am now regretting never running this scenario. As night falls proper, the cultists descend to the hidden shrine beneath the coaching inn to begin their ritual. What the PCs might do at this point is full of possibility. Do they remain in their rooms all night weapons drawn? Have they fallen foul of the kurts? Will they break free of their entrapment? Will they explore the inn during the dark hours?
The sound of the ritual chanting would have no doubt brought my PCs out of their room if they opted to remain. Even they would have noticed the splashes of blood across the inn and discover the bloodstained beds. Again, Bambra provides us with a second session of atmospheric stealth as the PCs roam around the property discovering the horror of the place. This gives canny GMs an opportunity to allow the players to put the pieces together. Descending into the cellar provides myriad possibilities for the narrative to end spectacularly. Will the PCs disturb the ritual and prevent the summoning? Will they smash the statue or become transfixed by it? What about the surviving occupants of the inn? Do they live or die?
All of these questions just go to show how each different group's journey through this scenario would vary. I doubt no two run-throughs would ever be alike. Again, this is testament to Bambra's design. What strikes me about the scenario here and Bambra's concept is that the PCs just cannot avoid avoiding the daemon once it is summoned. Poor old Hans, though he has the wit to bring the daemon from the warp, he cannot control it once it has arrived. The entity goes on an immediate rampage upon arrival (though it grows weaker every 100 metres from the shrine) and will stalk the rooms of the coaching inn until it is destroyed or fails its instability test, killing all who it finds. Looking back, those PCs who have chosen to remain inside their room, weapons drawn, would overhear this process until the daemon either breaks loose or return to the ether.
Imagine trying to understand what went on after they emerge at dawn?
So many possibilities. Truly a superb scenario.
Even after the 'Night of Blood' and however the players choose to proceed, Bambra leaves a neat little postscript to the adventure. As dawn breaks, a group of roadwardens make their way into the inn and will have some difficult questions for the players, especially if the mutilated bodies of the previous occupants are found. Adventure hooks lie here aplenty and will take the PCs onwards to other places and other dangers. The ramifications of the 'Night of Blood' may well have a long shelf life and could haunt the players long into their careers.