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The Warhammer Fantasy Role Play Starter Set Is A Great Gateway Into A Grim Game

It's time for Confessions of a Game Designer. I didn't know much about the Warhammer games or settings outside of the fact that many of my friends loved them and that they had hundreds of dollars of minis that they were never able to paint or use. I've played a few grim fantasy games in the past and heard folks speak fondly of the randomness of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay's chaos. "I rolled a Beggar," they'd say, "and I died from an infected wound!" This didn't sound like a ton of fun to me, but when Cubicle 7 sent me a review copy of their introductory set for their latest edition, I admit I was curious. I've always believed in playing a wide variety of games and after recently finishing a playthrough of The Witcher video game I was in the mood for something muddy and gritty.

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For those unfamiliar with the Warhammer setting, it's a darker take on European fantasy that's been around since the mid 1980s. It offers many different takes on the elements of Dungeons & Dragons fantasy and has more of a Grimm's Fairy Tale feel than the heroic fantasy of Lord of the Rings. Non-human characters are fairly rare, and the game focuses instead on the squabbles of humans. The most famous adventures focus on investigation and getting caught up in the intrigues of the nobles and power players of the world rather than being sent by a shadowy figure to scrape a dungeon clean. Magic is also potent natural force rather than something industrialized into spell slots and potions. The populace fears it because of its connection to the forces of Chaos that threaten to bleed through and destroy the world. But its also a great allegory for the allure of the setting: it's risky, dangerous, but maybe if you are lucky you can ride it to becoming a legend.

The Warhammer Fantasy Role Play Starter Set comes at a time when RPG companies are once again realizing the value of a good boxed set. The Fifth Edition Starter Set and Essentials Kit are excellent introductions to the grand old dame of roleplaying games. The Alien RPG recently released a starter box that contained many of the accessories sold separately like card and dice plus an adventure originally included in the pre-order that is a great emulation of that universe. The WHFRP set doesn't skimp on production value either. It comes with gatefold character sheets, rules primers, gorgeous full color artwork and even a pair of Q Workshop dice that look like someone scribbled an illustration of D10s in an earlier edition and they just sort of fell out of the book. The cleverest bit of engineering comes for a solution to a GM screen. Rather than skipping it or offering a flimsy attempt at one, the boxed set prints the most common rules for reference on the inside box top and suggests the GM use the box as a big rolling tray with the rules stood up in an "L" shaped box formation.

The first of two books that accompany the set is the Adventure Book. The box centers around Ubersreik, a river city that offers the grime one comes to expect from the setting. The book walks players through their first combat during a marketplace riot that sets up the short campaign. Players are pressed into joining the City Watch instead of serving time for their part in the riot whether it was justified or not. These adventures as watchmen give a tour of the highs and lows of the setting from arrogant nobles and corrupt cops to the good folks trying to be a candle in an otherwise dark world. The mini campaign offers a lot of flexibility. There's a starting adventure and an ending, but the rest of the pieces can be fit anywhere during the storyline, either by players choosing the storyline or by the GM picking the next piece. There are also optional adventures sprung out of the backstories of the pre-generated characters.

The second book is a sourcebook on Ubersreik. The GM can use this to give more flavor to the main campaign but it also serves as a great resource for groups who finish the main storyline and want to keep going. It's a location based write-up, but each location also has a prominent NPC there to give the space a bit of personality. Every location also has a pair of story hooks connected to it, one of which usually is about a secret the NPC located there is trying to keep covered up. Some of the secrets are silly, some are deadly but they all help reinforce that much of the darkness in the Warhammer world comes from petty human desires instead of alignments or clear cut moral lines.

Long time fans of the game (who have likely been chuckling at my wide eyed discovery of this setting while reading) will find good resources here too. The introductory adventure is strong and combined with the hooks in the Ubersreik sourcebook combine for a decently sized campaign. Owners of the core rulebook can swap in their own characters fairly easily and use the pre-generated characters at NPCs or to have on hand for friends who might want to try it out for an evening.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set can be purchased directly from Cubicle 7 or at your Friendly Local Gaming Store.
 
Rob Wieland

Rob Wieland

Seule

Explorer
The one time I tried it many years ago I rolled a beggar and then determined it was mathematically impossible for me to damage the first thing we fought. I think it was a zombie. I was not impressed. I think the GM didn't set expectations very well.
 


pming

Adventurer
The one time I tried it many years ago I rolled a beggar and then determined it was mathematically impossible for me to damage the first thing we fought. I think it was a zombie. I was not impressed. I think the GM didn't set expectations very well.
Hiya!

Sorry to say that you and your GM didn't do it right. :)

It's called "Additional Damage", on page 122 of the 1st Edition WHFRP. Basically, if you roll a 6, your roll your Weapon Skill again; if you succeed, you add another d6 to your damage. If THAT comes up a 6, you just keep rolling d6's until you don't get a 6 (no need to make another WS check).

Ex: WS 34%. You get a 6 for your damage, you roll % again, and get a 22. That's under your WS, you you get to add another d6 damage. Lets say that's another 6...you roll another d6, get a 6, you roll another d6, that's a 3. Your total damage would then be 6 + 6 + 6 + 3 = 21 damage. You likely just put a creature into the realm of "Critical Hits" (re: below 0 in Wounds). THAT is where the fun starts! ;)

A lot of people who try WHFRP (at least 1st edition...the version I still play) make little mistakes like this, especially if they are coming from D&D, Palladium Fantasy, Tunnels & Trolls, etc.

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 


univoxs

That's my dog, Walter
Supporter
Curious if anyone else has moved over to using Zweihander from 4e to run things like Enemy Within.
 

Crusadius

Explorer
I love Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. I think it's the best fantasy roleplaying game. But I've always thought there was something better out there so only purchased the core book for 4E while looking for that "better" game.

But recently I realized that I was a fool, and have committed myself to rectifying my mistake. So have now purchase the first two books of the Enemy Within campaign, and the Starter. And the Starter is a very good box set.
 

DrunkonDuty

Adventurer
I like the setting, but I do not like the system.

I think it would be better done in HERO or GURPS.

Generally I hate random character generation, but it works here. It sets things up so that players start with limited control and have to work damn had to get from the crap-sack beginnings to somewhere they'd want to be. That's the good bit.

But the rest of the system just doesn't work for me. I really dislike is Roll % systems. It's a unreasonable prejudice, I guess. But it aint changing anytime. Also, from memory the magic system is just "Hey! Random crap happens!"

I think Warhammer works if you just want to play a high camp black comedy with a lot of bodily fluids (and sometimes I do!) but for anything else.. nah.
 

Crusadius

Explorer
Generally I hate random character generation, but it works here. It sets things up so that players start with limited control and have to work damn had to get from the crap-sack beginnings to somewhere they'd want to be. That's the good bit.

WFRP 4E character generation is no longer only random. You start by rolling, and if you accept the rolls you get extra XP. But you can always choose not to accept the rolls and just select your career/race/characteristics.
 

pogre

Legend
WFRP is one of my favorites of all time. I have played every edition, although my group was not crazy about 3rd. The new 4e materials are first rate - love the adventures thus far, and looking forward to running The Enemy Within campaign yet again.

I'm not crazy about the new combat rules - so we use 2nd edition for that. The rest of the system works very well.
 

TrippyHippy

Adventurer
Minor quibble, but Lord of the Rings is actually pretty dark fantasy, while Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play was always a game setting to me that felt especially Tolkien-esque. Especially compared to other fantasy games like D&D. WFRP is advanced in it’s nominal chronology, to represent a more Pre-Renaissance setting along with its own lore, but it shares the similarity with LotR in that it’s main protagonists (the Hobbits in the case of LotR) are fundamentally ordinary people encountering epic scale threats. Characters who are vulnerable find real opportunities to grow as personalities within the game.

The Enemy Within Campaign, now being redone for the 4th edition in a ‘Director’s Cut’, is one of the best story-drive campaigns in RPGs. Every group would find something from running it.
 

Sunsword

Adventurer
The one time I tried it many years ago I rolled a beggar and then determined it was mathematically impossible for me to damage the first thing we fought. I think it was a zombie. I was not impressed. I think the GM didn't set expectations very well.

The game I played gave us 3 free advances outside of Careers. One of us just added 3 extra attacks, sure there chance to hit was like 44%, but they got 4 shots at ti.
 

Ringtail

World Traveller
Minor quibble, but Lord of the Rings is actually pretty dark fantasy, while Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play was always a game setting to me that felt especially Tolkien-esque. . .
Yes but I think there is a key difference in how that darkness is portrayed. Middle-Earth feels mythic, like Beowulf or some other Saga. The Old World feels grounded (excluding the silly jokes). While both feature normal people fighting against Evil, Middle-Earth tends to portray the fact that you can win and overcome Evil where The Old World likes to rub your nose in the fact that Chaos will eventually win. This is balanced out with a very bleak (and very british) kind of humor that can range from quite dark to unbelievably goofy. Very different tone and atmosphere, even with similarities.

You might like both, but I would never point you to Warhammer if you wanted more Middle-Earth. But if you said "Hey I like A Song of Ice and Fire, the Black Company and the Witcher, what have you got?" Well. . . come right in.
 


TrippyHippy

Adventurer
Yes but I think there is a key difference in how that darkness is portrayed. Middle-Earth feels mythic, like Beowulf or some other Saga. The Old World feels grounded (excluding the silly jokes). While both feature normal people fighting against Evil, Middle-Earth tends to portray the fact that you can win and overcome Evil where The Old World likes to rub your nose in the fact that Chaos will eventually win. This is balanced out with a very bleak (and very british) kind of humor that can range from quite dark to unbelievably goofy. Very different tone and atmosphere, even with similarities.

You might like both, but I would never point you to Warhammer if you wanted more Middle-Earth. But if you said "Hey I like A Song of Ice and Fire, the Black Company and the Witcher, what have you got?" Well. . . come right in.
I still feel people are portraying LotR as being all shininess and light, when actually the story itself was pretty dark. If you are reading it for the first time, then you don’t know who will win - it was a pretty bleak journey for Frodo - and even the end was bittersweet and stoic. If you play Enemy Within, then your own sense of winning is pretty similar. Both fantasies are very British. The other titles you cite, whether they are dark fantasies or not, aren’t. I think that is what I pick up. While Tolkien’s work is also linked to Beowolf, as per his own academic interests, it doesn’t portray a near-super heroic protagonist as in Beowolf. As with WFRP, characters are generally ordinary, and as a consequence feel vulnerable to horrific antagonists.
 
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Crusadius

Explorer
I still feel people are portraying LotR as being all shininess and light, when actually the story itself was pretty dark. If you are reading it for the first time, then you don’t know who will win - it was a pretty bleak journey for Frodo - and even the end was bittersweet and stoic. If you play Enemy Within, then your own sense of winning is pretty similar. Both fantasies are very British. The other titles you cite, whether they are dark fantasies or not, aren’t. I think that is what I pick up. While Tolkien’s work is also linked to Beowolf, as per his own academic interests, it doesn’t portray a near-super heroic protagonist as in Beowolf. As with WFRP, characters are generally ordinary, and as a consequence feel vulnerable to horrific antagonists.
Lord of the Rings is perceived as shiny and light because the story ends with Sauron overthrown and the beginning of a new age, despite the hardships the Fellowship suffered leading up to the beginning of the 4th Age.

Warhammer Fantasy Role Play does not have such a happy ending, with the official line being “Chaos will win” in the same way Call of Cthulhu says that mankind is doomed, but you can delay that doom for a bit. Officially they destroyed the Old World to usher in the Age of Sigmar, so doomed it is... until we got another edition, the 4th, of the game. But still the setting does not have an official “chaos will lose” future that could make it more shiny.
 

pming

Adventurer
Hiya!

One of the key things we loved about WHFRP (1e; the only version we played...although I did try 2e, and even have a stack of books for that version...1e is where my heart is :) ), was that no matter how long you survived, how many skills/talents you had, or what your stats were...a "tough monster" was very often STILL a "tough monster". For example, a Troll. New PC's COULD take a troll on and win...but it would be tough. PC's with a their basic career done, one advanced career done, and half way though a second...could take a troll on and win...and it would still be tough.

I think it stem's from the general "power" of a character primarily being that they have more Skills/Talents, and a higher chance to succeed at stuff...but their Damage and resistance to damage, doesn't increase very much past 'wet behind the ears' stage. In other words, a Human Soldier with a Toughness of 3 and 7 Wounds, might now have Toughness of 4 and 10 Wounds as a semi-advanced Mercenary Captain. Thing is...once those 7 or 10 Wound's go...you're into the Critical Table's. 😈 ...and once you are in there, 'everyone is equal'.

This lead us to take more "chances" PRE-COMBAT to try and avoid it in the first place. The 5 PC's being surrounded by a dozen guards...regardless of the PC's "experience"...would be in a serious predicament! Toss in a quartet of crossbow or blunderbuss bodyguards to the noble with the smug smile on his face and, well...lets just say that when we played WHFRP, the emotional and personal attachments to other PC's and NPC's (and even places) was turned up to 11.

Contrasted to D&D, where a group of 5, 16th level PC's can pretty much raze a small town in a few minutes, and can all but ignore any and all rulers, kings, mayors, nobles, even going so far as to just kill them because "Well, there's always more nobles...we can always just get Bill here to Raise Dead if the family gets really prickley ...sheesh! It's just a Lord Mayor :rolleyes: " ;) Not so in WHFRP; titles, family names, and social connections will kill your PC faster than those 6 goblins that tried to ambush you on the way into the Black Hills.

In short: There's a reason why it has "Role-Play" in the name. 😎

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

TrippyHippy

Adventurer
Lord of the Rings is perceived as shiny and light because the story ends with Sauron overthrown and the beginning of a new age, despite the hardships the Fellowship suffered leading up to the beginning of the 4th Age.

Warhammer Fantasy Role Play does not have such a happy ending, with the official line being “Chaos will win” in the same way Call of Cthulhu says that mankind is doomed, but you can delay that doom for a bit. Officially they destroyed the Old World to usher in the Age of Sigmar, so doomed it is... until we got another edition, the 4th, of the game. But still the setting does not have an official “chaos will lose” future that could make it more shiny.
As stated before, the defeat of Sauron was very much a bittersweet affair for the Hobbits in Lord of the Rings. It reflects on death in. pretty sombre way, while it isn’t at all clear that Sauron can possibly be defeated when reading through the book. In the case of WFRP, there are also victories along the way too. In short, it’s not a black and white affair for either story and I find a lot more in common between WFRP and LotR (which is clearly a primary influence, regardless) than I find with many other fantasy games.
 

Crusadius

Explorer
In short, it’s not a black and white affair for either story and I find a lot more in common between WFRP and LotR (which is clearly a primary influence, regardless) than I find with many other fantasy games.

I agree about the influence. A game that has Men, Dwarves, Elves (both Wood and High) and Hobbits... I mean Halflings as the primary species for characters is absolutely wearing Tolkien's influence on its sleeve.
 


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