Monday, 4 December 2017

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Retrospective

Monday, December 04, 2017

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Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Covers 1st to 4th editions
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay through the ages...
With news finally starting to trickle out from Cubicle 7 about the upcoming 4th edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay I've been thinking back a lot on my relationship with the game. I got into the miniatures end of Warhammer, 40k and their sister games back in the late eighties and even though I knew about the rpg end of Warhammer it seemed odd to me. Did you play an orc warboss on a wyvern or a high elf white lion?

Several years later I came across a used copy of the 1st edition rulebook, when I worked part time in
WFRP 1st edition original character sheet
a game store, and since it was cheap I thought "let's have a look". And well... a completely new side of Warhammer presented itself to me. Up until this time my main interest had been Epic, Necromunda, Space Hulk and Blood Bowl. While I had collected a small, rag-tag chaos army my real interest didn't really lie on the battlefield but rather in the more personal skirmishes (well, epic was en exception of course!). Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay finally showed me that personal, and real, side of the Warhammer world that had been missing from the tabletop game.

I started going back through old copies of White Dwarf to read all those WFRP articles that I had just skipped in years past. I tried to pick up as many books for the game I could find, although they started running dry right about then. What I really wanted to get my hands on was, of course, The Enemy Within - the greatest campaign ever written, according to some. It proved a daunting task so when Hogshead came in and started reprinting the old books and adding new ones to the lineup I decided it was time to actually play the game.

With me as the GM and two old friends and two newer ones we started playing The Oldenhammer Contract from the 1st edition rulebook. A few months ago I came across my old notes and charactar sheets from this game, and while I don't remember the names of the characters off-hand (and the sheets are back in Sweden) the group consisted of a halfling tomb robber, a human hunter from Middenheim, an elf wizard's apprentice and a human noble (I think). The Oldenhammer Contrat lead into Mistaken Identity and Shadows over Bögenhafen. The group did ok, but in the end actually failed the adventure, leading to some interesting and long-lasting consequences.

We continued with Death on the Reik (the module that I personally was most looking forward to run!) but only got about a third of the way through it before life happened. One of the players moved abroad for a bit and I changed jobs, meaning I didn't work with two of the players anymore. In the end we never picked it up again, although I know exaclty where we left off and still have the sheets. We could, potentially, pick up just where we left it. Especially considering it was a pretty good cliffhanger with the entire party having fallen prey to a sneaky ghoul!

I'm not sure how many sessions we played, but this was back when no one really had any commitments and I know we played a lot so perhaps 15-ish or so? One of the best "late" roleplaying memories for me mostly thanks to the great adventure material. While the rules could be odd now and then it didn't matter when the adventures and setting were so good!

Hogshead continued to re-release old material and made new stuff as well, which I managed to mostly gobble up, but in the end they ran out of steam before they had a chance to publish the re-worked Empire in Flames. Damn! Still, they had a good run!

Then, in 2005, Black Industries released the second edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay -
WFRP Tome of Salvation
probably the most popular iteration so far. It updated the rules, mostly for the better, and released a number of cool sourcebooks like Sigmar's Heirs and the Tomes of Corruption/Salvation. Something I wasn't all that keen on was the move to an Old Worlde more in keeping with the tabletop game. The cover art took a hit as well, becoming much more heroic and tabletop-ish. Both understandable moves from GW's part, but it made the setting a bit more plain. Or at least, it would have if we had followed it closely. I ran more of a 1st ed. style game anyway when we played.

And play we did! For the life of me I can't remember any of the characters, or even who exactly played, but we started with Through the Drakwald from the core book, which lead to the first part of the new campaign; Ashes of Middenheim. We played through it and had fun, although it didn't blow us away like The Enemy Within had done. It's certainly not a bad adventure, but neither is it a great one. The feeling I got was that Graeme Davis, who wrote it, was instructed to include as many different facets of the Warhammer world as possible in Ashes of Middenheim, as it would probably the one adventure all WFRP2 players bought and needed to introduce the setting to new players. It's an understandable approach, but one that rarely works (and will show up again in WFRP3).

As I flip through the adventure now I think it would have worked much better as more of a slow burn, with smaller adventures interspersed between the main chapters. I of course still have the old Middenheim book for 1st edition that could have been used for all kinds of cool stuff. Well, now-me is a better GM than past-me I suppose.

Having finished Ashes of Middenheim (with the heroes being successfull this time) we didn't feel any particular need to rush into part two, Spires of Altdorf, so instead I decided to run some of the updated first edition adventures from Plundered Vaults. Rough Night at the Three Feathers was my original, almost instinctive choice, as it is such a legendary adventure, but after reading Sing for your Supper I simply couldn't resist running that. This felt much more like the WFRP we know and loved and I remember the entire group having great fun with this adventure! Which was a good thing as it would be the last WFRP play for about five years.

Sing for your supper...
This was before I started logging plays so I don't know how many sessions we played but seeing as Ashes of Middenheim has eight parts I think ten sessions at the very least, probably more like 15. Looking back at it now I'm surprised we managed to get through all of Ashes of Middenheim and one more adventure, seeing as they were released in early 2005 and I moved to Tokyo in October that year. Again, times were simpler then I suppose.

During the first couple of years in Japan I didn't do any analogue gaming, but as the craving started I did manage to run some Dark Heresy games (where you could already see the WFRP rules engine starting to creak), and when the 3rd edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay was announced by FFG in 2009 I was eager to dive back into the Old World!

An Eye for an Eye!
This more or less coincided with us moving back to Sweden in 2010 and almost immediately I was planning a 3rd edition campaign with my old group. By now I had started logging games on BGG and started writing session reports on this here blog, so for anyone curious about our adventures in Stromdorf just go back and read! We started with the introduction scenario A Day Late and a Shilling Short, continued with the An Eye for an Eye (a really atmospheric little adventure!) and then straight into The Gathering Storm. Unfortunately the final third of the campaign didn't get proper session reports. I would go back and write them now if only I could remember the details, it's somewhat hazy. However, I intend to at least do a kind of wrap up of the campaign and my thoughts on it.

Suffice to say, we really liked what FFG did with the new system, at first. There were some quirks,
like going abstract with combat, but not entirely, which lead to some odd moments, but overall the chits and cards and dice really worked for us! The actions were fun, the magic system had a cool push-you-luck mechanic to it and the bits did help. Until they didn't. My problem with the format wasn't the bits and cards themselves but the pure amount of them!

If FFG had realeased the core box with bits and cards and then had a mixed line of books with optional card/bits to buy I think we would have continued playing WFRP3. What ended up happening was that every release for the game came with more cards and bits. And not more as in "add these new injury cards to the injury deck" but as in new types of cards and bits. This made the game bloat enormously and by the end of our campaign I simply felt drained as a GM simply by setting up and just keeping track of all. That. Stuff.

This bloat combined with the kind of mediocrity of The Gathering Storm actually killed WFRP for me for a bit. In fact, it killed roleplaying or at least game mastering for me for about a year. When I felt ready to get stuck back in I kind of overcompensated and only felt interested in small and tight games like Diaspora or Mouse Guard that didn't rely on large amounts of GM preparation. I still think it's a real shame WFRP3 ended up the way it did. The core system is good and spawned a lot of fun stories. As I went back now and read through the old session reports I was reminded of how much fun we had with it! Just look at how popular their Star Wars line of games is, and that is pretty much the same rules but with all the cards as optional extras.

I also think that FFG managed to find a pretty good middle ground between the original 1st edition feel and some of the more tabletop connected stuff of 2nd edition. The art was generally better, although I missed a lot of the, less polished, but more atmospheric art of 1st edition. All in all we played 13 sessions of WFRP3 which makes for about 40-45 sessions of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay in all it's different iterations, so far. My years of running Call of Cthulhu might come close to that number of sessions, but I still think WFRP holds the top spot as my most Game Mastered roleplaying game!

Which reminds me that there's been one player who's been a constant presence during all 45(ish) of these sessions and that's my old high school friend Anders. Come to think of it, he's probably my oldest friend that I still hang out with. Ha! While it migh have happened I can't recall him ever missing a session of our Warhammer adventures, which is pretty impressive all things considered. Here's a cheers for Anders and hopefully our continued adventures in WFRP4!

So... speaking of the 4th edition... let's segway into that. Last week we started hearing about some of the plans for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4th Edition by Cubicle 7, and I'm getting that jittery feeling I had both back in 2004, when 2nd ed was announced, an in 2009, when 3rd was announced! We will actually get two games, one set in the classic (now exploded!) Old World and one in the Age of Sigmar setting. However, as I don't really know much, or have much interest in, the latter I will focus on the former.

The covers for the boxed starter set and core rulebook. I love how the first shows the heroes casually laughing it up (and a ratcatcher with a wanted sign?) while the others shows them in full melee but at the same location. Great stuff! Also, check out how well the new cover lines up with the original - the guys behind Zweihänder made a comparison
C7 says the tone will be similar to the 1st edition, even the new cover invokes the original in a nice way, with rules based on the 2nd edition. To be perfectly honest I was hoping for more of a from the ground up re-imagening of the rules, but at the same time I can't blame them for making what is probably the smarter business decision - everyone seems to love the 2nd ed rules. I think they're fine but showing their age, and not in a good way. Still they did postpone it about six months (it was originally slated for release this year) to keep finagling the rules, which is a very good thing to me.

What is even more interesting is that, even though C7 first said they weren't interested in rehashing old material, they are going to release a special director's cut, anniversary edition of The Enemy Within! While I generally agree with not rehashing old stuff, some games and supplements are exceptions - WFRP and CoC spring to mind. Especially since players have been clamouring for a reprint of TEW since 2005 and that FFGs version really was a different campaign with similar themes.

As implied by the director's cut comment, the reprint will feature updated and or added content, which, I imagine, will most likely concern the last two parts of the campaign that are generally considered much weaker than parts one to three. Overall I'm very excited for these news. Generally because Cubicle 7 makes extremely well written and atmosphericgames, such as The One Ring, and specifically because I would like to continue The Enemy Within some day. As I mentioned above we could just pick up where we left off, although I think we might as well play from the beginning as I think most of the plot has been clouded by foggy memories by now.

Whatever happens I'd be happy just getting another 15 sessions worth of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay to log and chronicle!

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