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Terror in the Darkness


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There was a miniature painting contest at Oldhammer 2014, and one of the winners was a beautifully painted Ambull miniature. That brought back some memories, and a recent Facebook post in the Oldhammer Community finally stirred me to action.

Ambull mini

The Ambull miniature is pretty rare. The beast was created by Rick Priestley and can be found in the 1st edition Warhammer 40K rulebook along with quite a few other critters that were never used in WH40K army lists. As far as I can remember, it was the only one of these unaffiliated monsters to be made into a miniature. Since it didn’t have a home in any army list, I’m sure it didn’t sell well.

But that’s not the story I wanted to tell. I want to tell you about Compleat Encounters, and how an Ambull came to be featured in a WFRP adventure.

It was 1988, just over a year since WFRP and WH40K had been released. TSR UK’s Imagine magazine was gone by this time, but its former editor Paul Cockburn was now editing White Dwarf. One of Imagine’s many good points had been “Brief Encounters” – short, 1-2-page adventures showcasing a particular monster or situation – and Paul (or someone else in GW management) had the perfectly sensible idea of doing the same thing with short WFRP encounters in White Dwarf. They were called “Compleat Encounters.”

I loved the idea, all except for one thing. I wasn’t allowed to write any. Nor was anyone in the GW Design Studio. In a move that foreshadowed one of my greatest frustrations at GW, it was decided that all the work would be farmed out to external writers. We were to write briefs, but not encounters.

It’s already on record that I wanted every miniature in the Citadel catalogue to find a place in WFRP. As I set about churning out briefs (which, to be honest, took just as much time as if I’d written the encounters myself), I turned to the miniatures catalogue for inspiration. One of my early efforts featured a renowned sculptor who cheated using a cockatrice; it was written (by whom, I no longer remember) but as far as I know it was never published. I used another encounter brief to import the Ambull into the Warhammer Fantasy setting.

Tony Ackland's Ambull illo from the WH40K rulebook. You can see how closely the miniature followed it.

Tony Ackland’s Ambull illo from the WH40K rulebook. You can see how closely the miniature followed it.

At the time, there was a lot of discussion within the Studio about the relationship between the Warhammer world and the WH40K universe. The Ruinous Powers of Chaos were active in both settings, so there had to be a link – but what was it? Was the Terra of WH40K actually a future version of the Warhammer world? Was the Warhammer world a remote feral world in some backwater of the WH40K universe, where degenerate members of the various WH40K races lived in ignorance of the galaxy and its greater conflicts? The question was never definitively answered, and in time it was forgotten altogether – but not before several photographs had been published showing a mix of Warhammer and WH40K miniatures on the same table.

Historically, I think this was probably a stopgap measure allowing players to bulk out WH40K forces with “feral world” Warhammer miniatures until the WH40K miniatures line could be expanded. Once that happened, the whole matter was quietly dropped. I don’t know. Still, it was against that background that I started combing through the bestiary section of the WH40K rulebook for more monsters to bring across to the Warhammer world and WFRP.

Of all the WH40K creatures I looked at, the Ambull struck me as being best suited to a fantasy world. I converted the stats for WFRP, came up with an idea for an adventure to showcase it, and wrote the brief.

220px-WD108

The result can be seen in White Dwarf 108, written by Carl Sargent and titled “Terror in the Darkness”. I haven’t been able to find a scan of the original, but here’s a link to a fan-converted WFRP2 version. When I talked about this adventure at Oldhammer 2014, I wrongly said that I’d written it myself. I had completely forgotten about the Compleat Encounters and the time when WFRP staff writers weren’t allowed to write anything except briefs for freelancers.

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  1. December 11, 2014 at 5:21 pm

    I loved “Terror in the Darkness!” I GM’ed it for my group and they about peed their pants. It felt a lot like Alien when we played it. It was great fun.

  2. MattShearn
    December 13, 2014 at 11:06 am

    Terror in the Darkness ate up most of our party due to a combination of the Ambull and a simmering PC feud – great fun 🙂

  3. Wolf
    January 21, 2015 at 8:17 am

    Were there any other ‘Complete Encounters’ published, do you know? I can’t think of any other adventures that similarly show-cased a single idea or monster (apart from, perhaps, a Ken Rolston adventure about a type of elemental, but I got the impression that was a spin-off from writing Realms of Sorcery).

    • January 21, 2015 at 10:40 am

      Not as far as I remember. I know a lot of briefs were written, but I only recall one that resulted in a manuscript (the cockatrice adventure I mentioned in the post) and that wasn’t published. The response from outside writers wasn’t great, as they preferred submitting their own material. After a few weeks, I think, the whole idea faded away.

      I tried to revive the concept at Flame in a slightly different form. I collected together all the briefs I had written, added a few more, and wrote a proposal titled “De Bestiis Chaotis” (“On the Beasts of Chaos”). The idea was for a book of short encounters that the GM could drop in anywhere. It was inspired by “The Book of Treasure Maps” published by Judges Guild for AD&D, but focused specifically on encounters that showcased new and underused monsters. The whole thing would be held together by quotes from a fictional book on monsters, hence the title. I passed the proposal up the chain of command but heard nothing back.

  4. Wolf
    January 23, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    It seems a shame that the idea wasn’t picked up. I can’t help but feel Flame might have ended up a better loved project with this than, say, Castle Drachenfels.

    The quotes from a learned scholar idea is nice idea (and was later used to good effect in the second edition bestiary). WFRP with its often city and town based intrigue adventures could have done with more suggestions for integrating its extensive monster list into games.

  5. July 2, 2015 at 11:13 am

    The idea of a scholarly book tying a monster book together was eventually used in Creatures of Freeport, which I co-wrote in 2004 with Eberron and Gloom creator Keith Baker. We had been talking for a while about monster books and how to do a good one, and while this is not a collection of showcase encounters, we did make sure that each monster came with a selection of adventure hooks along with tactical notes, knowledge (with requisite skill checks), and uses for body parts – the monster as treasure idea.

  1. October 11, 2017 at 1:28 pm

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