Everybody’s heard about Warhammer. We all know the miniatures games, but the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Game (WFRP) is maybe not so well-known. That’s a shame because it’s terrific!
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay
First published in 1986 by Games Workshop, WFRP is now in its fourth edition. It’s published by UK company Cubicle 7, also known for a host of quality RPGs, including Doctor Who and two more Warhammer RPGs: Soulbound and Wrath & Glory.
It’s a well-loved game, and more than thirty years of material are available. Most of it is still usable, and some of it is highly sought-after.
Best of all, Warhammer goes far beyond WFRP and the miniatures games. There are also board games, computer games, novels, comics and more. It’s a hobby in itself – but the RPG has a special place in our hearts.
What’s good about it?
The first thing most people notice about WFRP is its mood. It has a very different sensibility to other fantasy games like Dungeons & Dragons or Runequest. The rulebook’s cover says it all: ‘A grim world of perilous adventure’. So true.
Its flavor is very English, or at least European: set in the ‘Old World’, essentially a fantasy version of Renaissance Europe. The Empire is the default setting – think Holy Roman Empire but with mutants, beastmen and chaos cults.
It has a reputation for being crunchy, but its core is a simple roll-under percentile system. The usual fantasy races are there, including Dwarves, Elves and Halflings. It has a flexible class-based advancement system.
Magic is dangerous (you’re always risking a miscast, which can be hilarious or fatal, depending on the dice). Combat is gruesome (rolling on the critical hit tables can be a high-point for a session – or a low point if you’re on the receiving end). And the world is full of danger and mystery.
Conflict-wise, the game has everything, from chaos cults infiltrating high society to Skaven (ratmen) skulking in the sewers; greenskins planning their next Waaagh! to greedy merchants defrauding the innocent; nations plotting against each other to local burgomeisters bargaining with dark powers; and much, much more.
WFRP also has one of the greatest campaigns ever published: The Enemy Within. Upon release in the eighties, it was a landmark in adventure design, and now it’s back and better than ever.
Cubicle 7’s new editions come complete with updated content, developer commentary, ‘Grognard boxes’ with notes for changing things up, companion volumes, online support and more. It’s one of gaming’s great experiences and one every player—or GM—should experience.
What about the funny accents and bad teeth?
Well … what about them? I mean, come on, the game is British, innit?
Seriously, the game’s sensibility is a big part of its appeal. Think of it as Batman, not Superman. Or perhaps Blackadder meets Game of Thrones. There’s little time for nobility and grand ideas and sweeping commitments to protecting humanity from the forces of evil.
Instead, you’ll be trapped in a dark, stinking sewer being attacked by hordes of Skaven, fighting desperately just to survive. You’ll be uncovering corrupt nobles, saving drooling and ungrateful peasants from the taint of chaos and trying to make a living while doing so.
This is small-scale warfare in the mud and blood, not grand moves at the strategy table. But make no mistake; your small actions and minor triumphs can add up to major victories against the forces set against you. All you have to do is survive.
What if I’m a miniatures player?
If you’re a miniatures player, we reckon you’ll love it. You can bring your miniatures to the table, though not whole armies*. It’s a way to experience the Warhammer world from a very different perspective, seeing how the races and factions rub up against each other on a smaller scale.
*Well, of course, you can bring your armies to the table, and there’s no reason not to use the miniatures rules if a big battle comes along. Some early published scenarios even had notes on integrating Warhammer Fantasy Battle, and the rules sets are still quite compatible. Muti-format play at its finest.
Will I like it if I’m a roleplayer?
Okay, that’s a bit short. Yes, because you’ll be playing a different kind of hero – there aren’t many knights in shining armour here. Characters are rich and detailed, so you can make the exact filth-caked hero you want. Ratcatcher, anyone? Witch Hunter, Priest, Pit Fighter, Thief, Smuggler or Investigator? With 64 classes on offer, you’re sure to find something you like.
On the GM side, the setting is deep, which makes it ideal for new and experienced GMs alike. There are decades of material to draw from, and the new material is full of adventure seeds and plot hooks. Finally, the wide range of conflicts and factions means you can run whatever game you fancy, whether that’s crunchy combat, introspective character stories, grand narratives or anything in between.
How can I get started?
Oh, in so many ways! We prefer the books to the PDFs because they’re a much more sophisticated technology. Platform-neutral, device-independent, never run out of batteries, can be read in direct sunlight and won’t break if you drop them. You get the idea.
They’re also easier to annotate (with bookmarks and sticky notes, of course – I mean, who’d be sacrilegious enough actually to write in their own book?).
Although we prefer Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay fourth edition, any edition is good! The first, second and fourth editions use the same core rules, while Fantasy Flight Games’ third edition has its own systems. Regardless of which edition you prefer, you can use virtually all previously published material. Conversion guides (if you need them) are available online.
Whatever entry point you choose, the best advice is just to get stuck in. Scenarios are readily available, the core rules are simple, and we reckon you’ll have a blast.
Just watch out for those critical hits, eh? Oh, and the corruption. And the fumbles… warpstone mutations… beastmen and greenskins and cults… Plus the corrupt nobles, deranged peasants and rampant disease and infections. The Old World’s a lovely place, really.
We did mention it’s a grim world of perilous adventure, didn’t we?
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Written by Michael B.
Michael’s from Sydney, Australia. Over the years he’s organized game conventions, contributed to magazines, and written supplements for White Wolf and Dream Pod 9. He loves trying out new games but his goal is to run all the classic modules and campaigns for Warhammer, Call of Cthulhu, Traveller, D&D, and Runequest. We figure it’ll keep him off the streets.