Monday, April 30, 2012

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay

Looking back, I am coming more and more to admire Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and I am grateful for having a nearly compete collection of the second edition. I came a little too late in the game to get into the first edition (although I do own it, and the major campaign arc The Enemy Within), but I found the second edition to be an excellent game. I think that version was incredibly conscious of the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons, which was admittedly the three hundred pound gorilla in the 10'x10' room in 2005. The result is a game that parallels the competition in clarity and internal symmetry, but one that takes an entirely different path in terms of player power and goals. Sure, WFRP characters do become more powerful, but not particularly offensively (as D&D characters might), but rather defensively. WFRP characters become more scarred, thick-skinned and tougher through their travails. The goal of a WFRP character is not power. It is that faint glimmer of hope: that drive to survive the short and brutal affair that is medieval life in the Old World. It is a seemingly small difference, but it makes a fantastic contrast from the Dungeons & Dragons experience.

And, for your entertainment, here is an illustrative example of the same scenario being played out in each game:

Dungeons & Dragons
The players hear of an old barrow tomb in the mountains above town. They trek up to it the next day, disarm their way past traps, fight through rooms of skeletons and ghouls and pry open the sarcophagus. They grab the coins, treasure and magic sword inside, but not before the remains rise to attack them as a lich. They lose a henchmen in the fight and go back to town victorious, throwing a party with the villagers.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay
The players hear of an old barrow tomb in the mountains above town. They trek up to it the next day and find the old tomb half-buried in earth and vines. They find the chamber sad and empty, and pry open the lid to reveal the remains of an ancient barbarian queen and her child. Overcoming any moral qualms, they grab the only item of apparent value (a deteriorated ancient necklace) and shuffle back to town. Unable to find an interested buyer, and worried the jewelry might be cursed, the players toss the necklace into the town well and go back to the inn. That night, a banshee appears in town and leaves a wake of murdered children. The locals gather into an uncontrolled mob to find the culprit, but accidentally chance upon the midnight rituals of a local cabal of cultists (including the mayor's secretary and the local baker—come to think of it, his Monday meat pies did taste a little strange...). The mob breaks out into a full scale riot, half the town burns down and the players are rounded up the next day, tried as witches and hanged.


  1. Your comparison seems a little biased --in that it makes the WFRP version so much more colourful. But I do get the idea behind the comparison. I've been playing and GMing WFRP since 1st ed and D&D longer than that.

    The elegance of WFRP is that the design gives players a whole different set of motivations and options, especially since they are deeply embedded into the setting.

    I really love the grim, grittiness of WFRP, where no character is ever safe from a quick death by a peasant with a fast dagger. And the whole paranoid, horrors-underneath-the-veneer-of-civilization.

    I ran a campaign of WFRP years ago in which the truly lucky characters had a horse, and maybe some metal armour. They spent most of their time on the run from the law and were slowly going insane. Everyone had a blast!

  2. I didn't like the second edition. It feels like they took out all the goofy fun stuff and turned the grimdark up to 11. The same sort of thing happened to WFB where chaos gets more and more attention until the game devolves into a simple good guy versus bad guy.

  3. That doesn't sound like a fun game...

  4. That's nonsense, you could play D&D the same way if you wanted.



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