Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (1986)

Gonna be honest: Games Workshop has always put me off. But after almost four years of running this feed and folks constantly asking me to cover Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, I finally picked it up and am shocked to report: I absolutely love it.

This is the soft cover Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay rulebook (1986) and everything you need to run the game is inside. Due to the cost of importing, GW reprinted RPGs from US publishers for the UK – D&D for a while, then Stormbringer, RuneQuest and Call of Cthulhu. You can spot the influences of all of them, but WFRP feels like its own thing. It is a skill based percentile system, with tactical combat tuned for the use of miniatures. It starts to shine when you get into the character careers, which dress classes with the trapping of a trade. The careers, which range from the expected, like merchant, to the delightfully odd, like rat catcher, give a window into the setting of the Old World and help define characters for roleplay. They also have exits to other careers, so they serve as the primary tool for character progression, again rooted firmly in the fiction of the world. This is brilliant stuff.

The world is the real treat. The Old World is roughly analogous to a high Medieval/early Renaissance Europe. There are guns and dwarves. Magic is dangerous. Chaos is a constant, reality-unraveling threat. Much of the world has a veneer of civilization, but it is thin and you can see the reality that is poor, violent and brutal without much squinting.

The art does quite a bit of world building. John Sibbick’s iconic cover sets the stage well (Mohawks!). Tony Ackland fills things out with traditional illustrations that emphasize the grime. But just as important are Dave Andrews’ building diagrams and floor plans. As much as I can see their utility for the miniature-centric portion of the game, just seeing them gives a lot of life to the world in a way that most other city books before and since lack.    

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