Wednesday, June 6, 2012

We Didn't Get the Memo Re: Warhammer FRP


I've been thinking about WFRP 1e a bit lately; it is the game we definitely had the most fun with in high school.

Sadly, it turns out that we were playing it completely wrong.

Warhammer is supposedly a meat-grinder of a game where beginning PCs suck at everything and will inevitably die in gruesome ways.  We got this one totally wrong.  Two PCs (mine and a buddy's dwarf trollslayer) went through the Enemy Within, Doomstones, Drachenfels, and a bunch of one-shot adventures and survived them all, so clearly we were doing it wrong.

We tended to play cautiously, but there is something to be said for starting WFRP characters being a lot tougher than 1st level D&D characters.  A 1st level fighter right off the turnip truck can be killed in a single blow; a WFRP character can't be killed in a single blow because they'll start with at least one Fate Point.

And as for WFRP characters being Eternal Weenies Who Always Suck, my long-lived six-career elf character begs to differ.  Sure, he didn't end up with a super-high Strength or Toughness, but an absurdly high Agility and the Dodge Blow skill meant that it was practically guaranteed that at least one attack per round would miss him entirely.  Oh, and he also had a ridiculous Initiative score and 4 Attacks to unload before his foes got a chance to act.  Good luck with that, warriors of chaos.

Warhammer's Old World is a crapfest with nothing but misery, disease, and poop lying around all over the place.  We honestly never got that sense of the Old World from the 1e setting materials.  Sure, the Old World was a place of danger, corruption, and economic disparity, but I think you need a big element of that in a fantasy setting for it to be interesting.  Nevertheless, it certainly didn't seem as post-apocalyptic as people often make out.

Of course, we actually benefiting from not knowing too much about the culture surrounding Warhammer that favored SPIKES AND MORE SPIKES AND GRIMDARK HELMS WITH SPIKES AND SKULLS ON THEM because we pretty much played the game in isolation from anyone else playing it.  To us, Warhammer was a place where Gandalf could go on an adventure with Conan, Legolas, King Arthur, and  Renaissance German dwarves and Viking dwarves, like this:


That's what WFRP looks like to me, but I guess we didn't get the memo.

28 comments:

  1. This echoes my experience entirely. People don't realise how humourous the game could be, either. And not in a "ha ha you have syphilis" way.

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    1. Yeah, people either seem to miss the humor entirely or think it's goofy. I love it.

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  2. Personally, I am fascinated by that eerie transition between things like the Shamutanti Hills and Kharé: Cityport of Traps, and full-blown WFRP. The point where you have grinning moons and Mona Lisa and fimirs and rat-catchers and mantichores and flying ships and Hansaetic cities, but it is fantastic grotesque action instead of the now dominant, investigation-oriented low-key fantasy CoC. That is, I want The John Blanche and Ian Miller Fantasy Role-Playing Game.

    I got to play something close to that in a one-shot convention adventure (actually using the early pre-WFRP Warhammer rules, which are somewhere between a wargame and an FRPG, with a totally random skill list including, inexplicably, 'Transvestite'); it crammed in everything from Bosch and Leonardo to Münchhausen and Romeo and Juliet, and it was a total hoot, the Warhammerest thing I have ever experienced.

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    1. I'd like that RPG too. Sorcery! was my gateway drug to D&D.

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  3. Also, syphilis is pretty funny as long as it happens to player characters.

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    1. Random Humorous Syphilis Table coming right up...

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  4. Agreed.

    WFRP isn't nearly as grim and miserable as The Internet purports it to be. There's certainly room for it to be low-powered and fatalistic, but it does the game and setting a huge injustice to think that that's all it offers.

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    1. Yeah, that's a good way of putting it. 1e had room, instead of a narrower focus that came later.

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  5. I love WFRP. The system and setting are synergistic in a way that other combinations of setting and rules can't quite match (except maybe Call of Cthulhu.) The first edition had a couple of rough spots in the rules, but overall it was a terrific game.

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    1. What rough spots did you find? The thing we changed most was the cost of magic careers and spells.

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  6. I'm with you, at least to an extent. While I encountered Warhammer old enough to get the humor and some of the griminess of it, certainly. I took that for Medieval realism through a lens of Fritz Leiber-ian irony. Besides paranoia, I've never played any game where "you're gonna die!" (imagine that sang by Axl Rose) was how we though it was suppose to be approached.

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    1. This reminds me that I need to read some Leiber.

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  7. WFRP and Runequest are the two games I regret not playing... and I saw WFRP being developed, and the several years before it all went super spiky.

    ...what bothers me in these discussions though is the confidently repeated assertion that the middle ages were so awful that nobody could possibly have survived them. I always feel like saying "how do you know?" Grimdark medievalism is an art style, not a history dissertation.

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    1. Heh, as someone who spends a lot of time with a medieval studies expert...I sympathize with your grimdark medieval times misconception!

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  8. Dwarf trollslayers are nearly indestructible. Hard to be grim and gritty when your dwarf can kill anything that walks and doesn't even break a sweat.

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    1. Sometimes that's a feature, not a flaw! "Naked Dwarf Syndrome" seems flavorful to me; it tells you more about dwarfs than you even wanted to know!

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  9. Our old group only got the chance to play WFRP 2-3 times. It was 1e, like 1992(?) and I was the gm. Everyone really liked the setting, but a lot of the players had a hard time getting used to the mechanics, for whatever reason. I really enjoyed it, and completely agree about your assessment of the setting and its current reputation.

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    1. The core mechanic is just d100 roll-under though?

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  10. I really hate those comments that just ask for traffic to the commentors site saying "This has inspired a full post on my blog" but...

    Yeah, I've done that because you've raised an issue that's been nagging at the back of my mind for ages. Hate me.

    http://fightingfantasist.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/wfrp-not-syphilitic-not-knee-deep-in.html

    Sorry about that.

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    1. Never apologize for that post; that post was awesome.

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  11. for me WFRP was always 'The John Blanche and Ian Miller Fantasy Role-Playing Game' as someone nicely has stated. but let me add for me two key differences between WFRP and D&D were:

    1. random roll for career. sure you can opt out of the career before finishing but it made in my opinion for the only game that i have played that literally allowed you not to have any preconception but just take dices and roll. grave diggers, camp followers, mercenaries, slayers, outiders abounded. and that was cool and i do not think that it was any more grimdark than your usual fantasy fare. that just meant that you could get to play conan at the beginning of his career as well as jack the gian slayer before he did any giant-slaying.

    2. open rolls were second key difference. yes you can get to play syphilitic dwarf but also you can get to play knight. and while knight can be brought low with some bad luck with one roll from the snotling armed with very sharp stick that also meant that one legged syphilitic dwarf could with some really good luck slay a dragon. aleatory power of dices at its finest.

    i like wfrp that almost anything can happen. to me it is more of a terry gilliam movie than dark knight returns but i fill that there are some peculiarities that make it quite unique beast and complement faux-medievel setting very well.

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  12. I second the feelings published on this post.

    I only ran a short WFRP campaign once using a few scenarios from a French gaming magazine and others of my own creation. The only material I had was the rulebook itself.

    It was one of the funniest romps I had as a GM, we laughed our arses off each and every session and by the time it was over the party had bough a large house in Nuln and had treasure in the thousands of gold crowns. Fate Points points kept characters alive on a couple of occasions where they would have certainly died on most FRPGs

    Honestly, the only way WFRP can be "GRIMDARK!!!" if you only have the 1st Ed rulebook to go along with is if the GM *forces* it to be so. One of the players had previous experience with the game and told stories of how her character got knocked up, her fiance killed horribly by orcs, etc. My trio of adventurers once wasted an entire orc tribe by themselves.

    I guess we were really playing the game wrong? LoL!

    I think WFRP, like CoC which started as a pulp-horror game and degenerated to the point where not killing at least one PC per adventure paints you as a bad GM (I'm not kidding, I have actually been told this), suffered from the effects of overbearing influence from creators/designers with a single-minded view of the "one true way" of how the game should be played (which is silly as people will play any RPG as they darn well see fit), and a sadistic streak that sometimes (just sometimes) makes you think some of them might not be fully mentally balanced.

    "1. random roll for career. sure you can opt out of the career before finishing..."

    Actually, you can't. You had to finish your starter career before you could move on to another. Second and subsequent careers you could opt out of though.

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  13. It's the careers that make WFRP1e grim. Sure, if one of your party chooses a Dwarf and rolls up a Trollslayer and another rolls a super-quick Elf, you've got the makings of a party that'll cut up lots of bad guys. However, if all the players choose human characters, there's a good chance that you'll end up with a party with several members who have few 'adventuring' skills (combat, stealth, magic or healing), in which no-one can read or write, and in which the best armed character has a hand axe and a leather jacket. Which is fun, but until the characters acquire the wealth to equip themselves, and a few EP to collect some skills, that's a precarious group for 'dungeoneering'. But Fate Points are extra lives that don't fit with WFRP1e = grimdark at all. Fate Points should mean that no character dies from Nugle's Rot in the Oldenhaller Contract, which robs the adventure of its real peril.

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  14. also i have to add that grimdark is label best stuck on the 40k universe after its 2nd edition. i would argue that wfrp is more dangerous, aleatory and less inclined to steep power rise than d&d but it is not really grimdark.

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  15. We always saw WFRP1e as a mix of "grand guignol" and "picaresque" genres, with a hefty dose of Monty Python humour. It's with the publication of The Enemy Within campaign that things like Chaos et al. get a firmer grasp on the setting.

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  16. my memories of WHFP -
    chasing three legged goblins through fairs,
    stealing a boat and taking up Piracy! - on a canal; perhaps not the best thought through career move
    The game carrying on for 4 hours with the GM unconscious under the table and no one really noticing. - Now that is committed Roleplaying - we are all in character- we dont need a GM

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  17. I played and GMed alot of WFRP. I ran the Enemy behind the throne and only had one pc killed and it was because the player made a very bad decision. I did have several characters roll around with no fate points taking enough critical hits and picking up enough insanity points to develop mental disorders. One character spent several month's in the bottom of the player's barge with a broken hip. The same character developed meglomania and tried ordering the rest of the party around, so the party would say "He is the Boss and put everything on his tab".

    I was subjected to a killer DM while playing. The DM made it a point to try and take a fate point from one or more players per session. There was one Wizard character that had accumlated four fate points and the Dm ended up killing my character trying to get the Wizard.

    ColKG

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