A Grim World of Perilous Adventure


WFRPBack in the 80s, a few friends and I, having done the requisite time in our early teens playing Dungeons & Dragons, were looking for a system a little more gritty, ‘realistic’, and ‘mature’ with which to enjoy our roleplaying sessions. And along came Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay with the tagline ‘A Grim World of Perilous Adventure’, which fitted the bill perfectly with its grotty 15th century German-ish milieu. There followed a campaign that, off and on, lasted years, and featured some of the most hilarious and enjoyable moments I’ve ever had with a group of friends.

It’s been a good ten years since I did much in the way of running a roleplaying campaign, but with the release of the new 2nd Edition Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay that group of friends is clamouring to get playing again (in between jobs, wives and lives). And with the same beloved characters—so pretty soon, the so-called ‘Merry Pranksters’ should once again start terrorizing peasants, cultists and nobility alike: Lucidius Lavarar, a flamboyant raconteur with a preference for polka-dot shirts and fleecing innocents of their money, Alitl Flagelant, a smelly, embarrassing dwarf, Fatuus Fitzue, a shabby, nondescript wizard, and Robert Lacy D’Aghuitlam duCourt, a once-noble elf with a brief drug problem.

I was worried the new edition might have seen WFRP‘s distinctive atmosphere swallowed up by the money-making behemoth that is Games Workshop and their kiddy version of the Warhammer World. To my relief however the new book is excellent—well written and well designed, some of the clunkier rules streamlined and, despite a few changes to the background material and history I won’t be using, the atmosphere still thick and—well, grim. The new combat system, while I have yet to try it out, seems smart. It divides the combat round up into half actions, full actions, and free actions, thus forcing the player to think a little more about the options than just “I take a swing at ‘im.” Combat is still very deadly, as it should be, which keeps the emphasis on roleplaying and story. The new magic system seems simple, but introduces all manner of frightening side effects that make magic use dangerous and unpredictable. Everything has been standardised to use a ten-sided dice, and both skill use and combat can easily be modified by an across-the-board ‘easy to hard’ set of standard modifiers. Simple.

But WFRP isn’t really about rules, though these are very good. It’s about superior story, atmosphere and character. A new campaign is on the way (along with a Bestiary and Gamemaster’s Pack; two other releases, a Character Pack and Plundered Vaults, a set of mini-adventures, are already on the shelves), and if it’s anything near as good as the old Enemy Within campaign, they’ll be many very enjoyable evenings gathered around a table laughing our heads off to come.

There’s nothing like a vivid imagination to keep you from growing up.
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd Edition is available from Black Industries or Green Ronin.

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Bjørn
    Jun 09, 2005 @ 17:02:12

    Nice review, though I must admit recognizing the full/half/free actions from D&D3’s full/move-equivalent/free actions 🙂
    How do you feel that the rules themselves advance more “gritty and mature” roleplay? Or is it mostly how the world is described that sets WFRP apart from others?

  2. Universal Head
    Jun 09, 2005 @ 18:53:44

    Interesting, I didn’t realise D&D3 used a system like that (since I haven’t looked at it since early AD&D days). Must admit I haven’t tried it out in play yet, but on a first read it sounds pretty logical and will perhaps introduce a bit more flavour and strategy to combat by giving the players more options (or inspiring them to try different things, at least).
    There are a few things that make the game more interesting, apart from the grim, thankfully non-‘high fantasy’ background. For one, combat is quick and deadly; a lucky shot can leave you with any one of a number of ‘orrible wounds, which are described in loving detail in the Critical Hit tables. I’ll never forget our first game, when one player waded confidently into combat, only to find himself hurridly carried away by his companions after suddenly suffering a broken leg and internal injuries! He certainly knew he was in a different world than the old D&D ones then.
    Another one is the careers system. Instead of classes or what not, characters advance through a series of careers, either following career exits logically (eg outlaw to outlaw chief), or following their own whims or those of the GM. The GM can weave this interestingly into play by making career options available to them as part of the game. As the player goes through careers he chooses characteristic advances, skills and talents pertinent to those careers. So you can see the advancement system is really tied into the roleplaying.
    In general, all this leads to less bashing things over the head, and more atmospheric character interaction and problem-solving. It’s not all about the rules though. The first edition of WFRP was helped out a lot by having the fantastic Enemy Within campaign, which at least until the last couple of installments was top notch adventure material: Shadows Over Bogenhafen and Power Behind the Throne in particular are in my opinion two of the best RPG adventures ever written. I just received the new WFRP2 campaign installment, Ashes over Middenheim, and hopefully it will meet the level of quality set by The Enemy Within.
    The Old World is a dirty, rough, tough place riddled with corruption and the threat of Chaos—the atmosphere of the film Jabberwocky rather than The Lord of the Rings. Take this scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail as an example of the kind of thing:
    “Who’s that?”
    “Must be a king”
    “Hasn’t got shit all over ‘im”.

  3. Bjørn
    Jun 09, 2005 @ 22:41:17

    Cool, thanks for the reply.
    D&D has a similar kind of system like careers, nowadays. You essentially start out as a generic class, but later on you can acquire levels in what is called “prestige classes”. These classes are similar in all aspects, except they are tied into the world you’re playing in and often have requirements that make them unavailable for low-level characters.
    So, if a campaigning country has an organization called “The Black Riders”, there ought to be a prestige class available called “Black Rider”. Some requirements (like +4 Survival, +10 Riding) might be required and essentially you’ll multiclass being perhaps a Fighther 5, Black Rider 2.
    However, I don’t know how much people actually use Prestige classes. They certainly sound less inviting to roleplay than a system that is entirely based on the setting’s careers.

  4. UniversalHead
    Jun 10, 2005 @ 12:18:23

    Looks like D&D is catching up! 😉 It sounds a little clunky though. I suppose the thing that D&D has to do is cater for all kinds of fantasy worlds, whereas WFRP is designed specifically for its setting. That’s why you have careers like rat catcher, which are entirely appropriate in the grim setting of the Old World.

  5. mike
    Jun 27, 2005 @ 12:16:26

    As a 20 year veteran of WFRP i was a little worried about the new rules but, having played them for some time now, it is still the same old warhammer.As mentioned it is a gritty world, not a place for the fainthearted.My advice to newcomers to warhammer is if you like your roleplaying to be all elves, magic swords and clear cut good versus evil stick to D&D.If you like a ‘real world’ approach to gaming where the lines of morality are blurred, and an environment that sometimes has you calling for your brown trousers then welcome to the Empire.

  6. UniversalHead
    Jun 27, 2005 @ 12:47:30

    Good to hear – I’m preparing to revitalise the (very old) campaign. How do you find the new combat rules? Do they ‘flow’ well in the heat of the moment? How about the magic system? Must be tough for magic users to decide whether they should go for those more powerful spells, considering the totally random possible consequences. Any tips most welcome.