A Grim World of Perilous Adventure. . .

History

A fantasy roleplaying game, released in 1986 and set in the world of Warhammer Fantasy Battle (now just called Warhammer). WFRP started its life as a supplement to Warhammer Fantasy Battle. Rules for WFB and Warhammer 40k both allowed for independant characters who could serve as leaders for large armies; Games Workshop decided to expand on the concept for a new suppliment. It soon became apparent that the resulting product was larger than a simply suppliment could contain, and a whole new game called Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay was born.

Unfortunately, life wasn't long for WFRP at Games Workshop. GW decided that their main goal was to sell paintable miniatures, which had a much higher profit margin than selling books. WFRP sold very few miniatures; a few were designed specifically for the game, but they were used primarily as markers on maps and for minor visual aides. Games Workshop looked for a way to make money of this miniature-less game.

The trial solution was to spin off a roleplay-only division of Games Workshop known as Flame Publications in 1989. Flame recieved a serious staff and budget cut from the earlier Warhammer Roleplay division, and was told to try and make it. Needless to say, they had little success. Several efforts were tried-a new extended campaign, a monthly or annual series of suppliments (only one issue was ever published), and tie-in novels. None of it worked. In 1992, Flame was dissolved, and all work on Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay ceased. With the death of flame, a number of projects that were in the works died as well. It seemed like the end of the line for WFRP.

Games Workshop negotiated with both Steve Jackson Games (of GURPS fame) and Atlas games to pick up publication of the series. However, negotiations fell through, and neither company ever published any Warhammer material. For several years, WFRP dangled in limbo. Fansites sprung up on the web to provide new material detailing new areas of the world, and Warhammer Fantasy Battle products could be converted, but no new official material appeared.

Finally, in 1995 small British publishing house Hogshead Publications licensed the rights from Games Workship to bring the series back to life. They recieved the reprint rights to the previously published WFRP books (including the main rulebook, The Enemy Within campaign, and a number of suppliments), and the right to create new books in the series. However, the licensing agreement was quite strict. Hogshead does not have the right to any of the material being developed when Flame shut down, can not print any new old books which contradict the modern Warhammer setting (when Warhammer Fantasy Battle was revised, a number of things were modified or cut), and effectively can not print any new material describing parts of the Warhammer world that have not been described previously by Games Workshop. This is all done to preserve consistancy across the Warhammer world.

After 1995, new suppliments began to appear including, after a 15 year(!) wait, Realms of Sorcery in 2001 (possibly some sort of RPG record). Hoghsead, as of 2002, has plans to publish expanded information on the player character races of the Old World, new information on the Dark Elves and Skaven, and a new version of the final installment of The Enemy Within.

Update, Winter 2002: After brief signs of life, WFRP has once again sunk back into the grave. In November, 2002, Hogshead notified its distributors, customers, and fans that it would be shutting down operations. Hogsheads owners felt that their prospects as an independent RPG company were on the decline, and that they had basically done all that they could with most of their gaming lines (no doubt the restrictive terms of the Games Workshop license on WFRP contributed to this feeling). The rights to all of the WFRP material that Hogshead reprinted and created reverted to the possesion of Games Workshop, and at current there is no clear indication that GW will license the game to another company any time soon. Hogshead was interested in selling their company, along with its current licenses, which would have potentially kept the game alive, but GW stepped in and declined to make the license they had sold Hogshead transferable. With the departure of Hogshead Publishing from the market, all of their in-the-works products vanished (suppliments for the Elf and Skaven races, and a newly rewritten conclusion to The Enemy Within campaign (as well as a number of other potential works). Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay once again faces a grim and uncertain future.

Update, Winter 2005: Has any game been more often killed and resurrected? In 2004, word got out that Games Workshop was once again contemplating reviving WFRP. Black Industries, a new division in the umbrella company that owns GW's Black Library publishing business, was formed to revive the venerable series, and set out to do what had never been done before: attempt a complete re-write and update of the Warhammer Roleplay rules, folding new features, bug fixes, and feedback from years of gameplay into a new Second Edition of WFRP. Opting to stick with the basics of the existing system rather than hopping aboard the d20 train, or any other meta-gaming system, Black Industries has announced the Spring 2005 release of a new version of the basic game, with updated play mechanics, new artwork, and new suppliments. A few classic adventurers are already slated for reprint, but overall Black Industries seems to be comitted to creating new content, rather than reprinting the existing WFRP library. New gamemaster suppliments have already been anounced, as well as a new epic Warhammer campaign: Paths of the Damned, starting with Ashes of Middenheim and continuing with Spires of Altdorf. Time will tell if WFRP's long-suffering fan community will warm up to the changes of the second edition (WFRP's lack of 'new edition' reprints was long a point of pride among the WFRP community, particularly when compared with the numerous tweaks and reprints of GW's Warhammer and Warhammer 40K lines), but Black Industries seems to be the first sign in some time of Games Workshop being comitted to making the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay franchise thrive.

Game Setting

As mentioned above, WFRP is set in the world of Warhammer and Warhammer Fantasy Battle, in particular the region known as the Old World. Chronologically, the game is set in a late Medieval/early-mid Renaissance setting. Gunpowder weapons are present, but not universal. Travel is by horse or coach, along a system of toll roads and paths throghout the Old World.

Politically and geographically, the Old World corresponds to Western Europe, with a very heavy Germanic influence. Political power is centerd on the Empire, which is really little more than a collection of city-states and their surrounding lands. Areas corresponding to other parts of the world (Araby, Nippon, the New World, Lustria), but they have not been detailed in official publications (and may never be, by Hogsheads license).

In feel and atmosphere, WFRP is dark, grim fantasy as opposed to high fantasy. The Old World is riddled with corruption; Orks, goblins, and other monsters make incursions into civilization, and dwell secretly in uncharted forests and mountains. Cultists in the service of the Chaos Powers and other dark gods stalk the cities and towns, meeting in secret to perpetuate depraved schemes aimed at toppling the established order and replacing it with Chaos.

There's a very robust set of rules for dealing with insanity, combat is fast and deadly (complete with critical hit tables giving gruesome details that range from broken and lost limbs to 'your enemies head is sliced off and lands 2d6 feet away'), and there is an ever-present threat of corruption, either by Chaos or dark magic (anyone who is interested in playing a necromancer can look forward to being a withered, corpse-like, insane, evil psychopath in very short order).

Players may be saving whole cities and towns from demons and Chaos very early on, but the general atmosphere of WFRP is not cheery. Everything seems to be in decline in the Old World- cities (half of the cities in Brettonia), nations (the Empire), races (the Elves and Dwarves), even grammer and television broadcast standards (just kidding).

Game Mechanics

WFRP uses a modified version of the system used by the other Warhammer games. Attributes for characters and monsters are (generally) on a scale of either 1 to 10 or 1 to 100. Different races have different ranges of skills; Dwarves are a little tougher, Halflings a little more dexterous, all in line with typical roleplay stereotypes. Characters also have Fate Points, which can be used to cheat death. Races who have a brighter future have more Fate Points, so that Humans and Halflings usually have more than Elves or Dwarves (both of which are in decline in the world).

Events (called 'tests') are resolved by diceing against a character's attributes in a fairly straightforward way. Roll percentiles under your Initiative score to see if you can jump out of the way of a falling giant. Roll under your Intelligence score to see if you can tell that the sign says 'Danger: Man Eating Fungus' in Dwarven. You get the picture.

Characters are grouped into four broad classes at creation (warrior, ranger, rogue, academic), and follow a series of careers. Each career consists of skills that must be learned, advances (increases to relevent attributes) that must be purchased, and trappings typical of that ocupation, representing equipment that the character should endeavour to acquire. When played properly, this system can be very useful for retaining a focus on real roleplay. When misused by munchkins and the Monty Haul crew, it results in characters with big swords, infinite strength, magical power, and a long list of 'careers' that have been little more than convenient excuses for gaining power.

The combat system, borrowed from the other Warhammer games, tends to be quite deadly (recall that you could be killing heavily armed and armored models 5 or 6 at a time in a Warhammer Fantasy Battle game- now apply that to one Halfling in nothing but a hat and coat. Messy.). With good players and GM, this means that the focus is more on roleplay and intelligent planning than on combat. With bad players or GM, you are going to go through either a lot of characters or a lot of NPC's and monsters in a single session. Holdovers from the Warhammer system are visible- combat movements, facing the right direction, charging and defending, and other combat manuevers are all described in terms of the movement of models on a tabletop.

Overall

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is a favorite of many gamers. It has a unique atmosphere, combining one part Tolkien and one part H.P. Lovecraft, and a somewhat novel setting for fantasy roleplay. The range of possible opponents for bold adventurers, while not comperable to TSR's attempt to glut every possible ecological niche with 300 man eating beasts, is considerable, and cerainly enough to keep players occupied for a long time. Likewise, the broad selection of skills, careers, and paths of progress means that characters can be given a lot of individual flavor. The Old World is detailed enough to provide a lot of flavor and a consistent experience (as well as to help out lazy GM's), but leaves enough 'wiggle room' to let your imagination play.

The artwork, plots, and atmosphere of the early Games Workshop books has often been called among the best in the roleplaying industry (Shadows over Bogenhafen, in particular, gets a lot of attention as a classic dark fantasy cenario). It remains to be seen if Hogshead will be able to live up to the standard, but early indications are good. In publishing Realms of Sorcery, they faced expectations of Phantom Menace-ian proportions (hundreds of geeks waiting 15 years for a rulebook), and seem to have pulled it off in good style. Prospects seem less than grim for the future of the Old World. . .

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Publications

As Hogshead is still bringing out new works, I will not include their publications here. Check their website at http://www.hogshead.demon.co.uk/ for a current list of published products. The following WFRP products were published by Games Workshop, Flame Publications, and Hogshead Publications:
Games Workshop Publications:
  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (1986)
  • The Enemy Within (1986)
  • Dungeon Rooms and Dungeon Lairs (1986)
  • Character Pack 1st edition (1987)
  • Shadows over Bogenhafen (1987)
  • Death on the Reik (1987)
  • Warhammer City (1987)
  • Power Behind the Throne (1988)
  • Death on the Reik, hardback version
  • Warhammer Campaign
  • Something Rotten in Kislev (1988)
  • Realm of Chaos:Slaves to Darkness (1988) (joint WFRP/WFB/40k suppliment)
  • The Restless Dead (1989)
  • Warhammer Adventure
  • Warhammer City of Chaos
  • The Empire in Flames (1989)
  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (reprint)(1989)
  • Realm of Chaos: The Lost and the Damned (1990)(joint WFRP/WFB/40k suppliment)
Published by Flame Publication:
  • Character Pack 2nd Edition (1990)
  • The Doomstones Campaign part 1: Fire in the Mountains (1990)
  • Lichemaster (1990)
  • The Doomstones Campaign part 2: Blood in Darkness (1990)
  • Warhammer Companion: A Grimoire of arcane knowledge (1990)
  • The Doomstones Campaign part 3: Death Rock (1990)
  • The Doomstones Campaign part 4: Dwarf Wars (1990)
  • Death's Dark Shadow (1991)
  • Castle Drachenfels (1992)
Published by Hogshead Publications:
  • Reprints of the core rulebook, The Doomstones Campaign, and The Enemy Within campaign.
  • Apocrypha Now (1995)
  • Dying of the Light (1995)
  • GM's Screen & Reference Pack (1997)
  • Middenheim: City of Chaos (1998)
  • Marienburg: Sold Down the River (1999)
  • Death's Dark Shadow (2000)
  • Apocrypha Now 2: Chart of Darkness (2000)
  • Realms of Sorcery (2001)
  • Corrupting Influence: Best of Warpstone, vol. 1 (2002)
  • Dwarfs: Stone and Steel (2002)
  • Poster size maps of the Old World, Middenheim, Marienburg, and the map included with Death on the Reik
Published by Black Industries
  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay : A Grim World of Perilous Adventure, 2nd edition (scheduled March 2005)
  • Character Record Pack, 2nd. ed. (scheduled March 2005)
  • Plundered Vaults (scheduled March 2005)
  • Game Master Pack (scheduled April 2005)
  • Old World Bestiary, Volume 1 (scheduled April 2005)
  • Paths of the Damned: Ashes of Middenheim (scheduled May 2005)
  • Old World Armoury (sourcebook) (schedule not released)
  • Sigmar’s Heirs (setting) (schedule not released)
  • Paths of the Damned: Spires of Altdorf (adventure) (schedule not released)

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