Here's my first thoughts on the new PBtT after a first read-through (cross-posted from the GMs group on Facebook):
Short impression: Very close to the original, more so than I had expected.
First, of course, the book is very pretty as we’ve come to expect from C7. My favourite piece of artwork in it – the highly evocative image of Brunhilde in her lair preparing her disguises that serves as a frontispiece – will unfortunately be hard to use in the game.
My main impression after this is that the new version hews a lot closer to the original than I had somewhat expected, both in contents and organisation. Apart from an added prologue section covering the journey from Altdorf to Middenheim, the chapters are fundamentally the same and in the same order as in the original, and while there’s some more detail (for instance, many of the carnival events, which used to have only humorous names, also get humorous descriptions) the structure of the adventure and most of its particulars are essentially unchanged. The greatest difference in organisation is that the big block of descriptions of major NPCs is moved to an appendix, while the chapter called ‘The Powers That Be” is now an extended version of the old chapter “People and events” featuring “trigger events” and describing points of contact and interactions with all the major NPCs rather than just a handful of them – which is helpful, but also a bit confusing since a GM reading the book in order will not know much about a number of these characters who will be detailed only in the appendix.
As for contents and expansion, the famous deficiencies of Power Behind the Throne complained about from the start are its failure to advance and develop the Purple Hand, Kastor Lieberung and Gotthard von Wittgenstein plotlines, and to a secondary extent the problems of finding time to use all the extra Middenheim stuff either before or after the main adventure. While there is a _little_ bit more about the Purple Hand and the Lieberung plot, and a tiny little bit more on Gotthard, the adventure mostly doubles down on refusing to engage meaningfully with these plotlines. HOWEVER, it’s also heavily hinted that these plotlines _will_ be followed up in The Horned Rat, the first act of which will apparently be set in Middenheim and follow straight on from the end of PBtT. There’s quite a number of teasers about THR and, at least, some notes on what NPCs, groups and plotlines will need to still be around for that, but it’s all kept on a strictly “need-to-know” basis with only the minimum possible transparency. (The list of what is “needed” for THR is extensive enough to probably require some railroading to keep various NPCs alive.)
I admit this – simply postponing all the loose ends until the next adventure, which will be newly written anyway - is probably quite a clever solution and definitely the one that requires the least reworking of PBtT. It’s very badly suited for my own needs, since I probably won’t be using THR (assuming it even comes out in time for me to be _able_ to), but then I know I’m not the core target audience and I was prepared to do this work for myself anyway.
Another link with THR is a slightly expanded version of the ‘Chaos strikes by night’ incident, but with the mixed Chaos warband turned into all-Skaven and the implication of some sort of cooperation between the Purple Hand and the Skaven of under-Middenheim, which will apparently be an important plot point in THR.
The Grognard boxes, mostly devoted to how to tweak the adventure to foil players who know the plot from before from metagaming their way to an easy victory (does anyone actually do this?) are, by now, mostly just an increasingly annoying gimmick. The only useful such section IMO details some variants to tweak the “evil plot”, including various substitutes for the doppelgänger. (As in the original, we get no explanation as to where Wasmeier got his doppelgänger from.)
The new prologue adds some minor encounters, news and rumours. It doesn’t include the fight at the Place of the Shining Rock, and indeed reimagines the Sons of Ulric as a somewhat more mainstream but still nasty separatist group that reminds me more of the Tea Party and various reactionary American secessionists than the all-out religious terrorists of Carrion Up the Reik and Empire at War. There’s also some useful notes about how the situation in the Empire in general and around Middenheim needs to evolve for the latter part of the campaign to kick off properly – but again, this should have been in the first chapter of the _first_ book.
There is a little more advice on how to run this complex adventure than in the original, but not a whole lot. (The section actually called “Running the adventure” is a laughable single paragraph which states that the adventure is complex and needs to be read through thoroughly.) I’ll be interested to see if the Companion book breaks with precedent and includes some more material to help GMs out here. If not, Gideon’s TEW Companion, which does include such material, still is anything but redundant.
Finally, some changed details to NPCs that I did notice and appreciate:
- The description and depiction of the mentally disabled Baron Stefan Todbringer is very different (and improved) from the caricatured 1E version. This Stefan seems catatonic or otherwise dissociative.
- While Katarina Todbringer’s role in the adventure is basically unchanged, her description is a lot less patronizing (she’s no longer being referred to as a ‘truly dumb blonde’).
- The libertines Luigi Pavarotti and Allavandrel Fanmaris are now actually bisexual. (It’s not spelled out in so many words but they will now hit on any attractive _characters_ rather than just female ones.)
All in all, it’s a solid and pretty book, well worth having. Not exactly essential if you've got the original and aren't interested in playing the new version of the campaign ending.