Saturday, 11 February 2017

Wifferrp

I must be getting old. The flu (or just a nasty cold) has had me in it's grip for well over a fortnight now and it's refusing to let go. Bastard. As a result I haven't felt like doing much painting recently so I haven't got any cool new toys to show. Fear not, however as there are some in the pipeline. I just need to restart my painting mojo.

"So if you've got nothing to show us why are you posting?"

Good question dear reader. I occasionally like to blether on in posts about the things that do or have inspired me about Warhammer and it's derivatives and  I've had the third of the holy triumvirate wandering around in the back of my head for some time so I thought I'd take this opportunity to have a verbal wander about.

As a young lad my first contact with all this fantasy game malarkey was with good old Dungeons and Dragons, I've talked before about the influence dragon magazine had on me but it was actually playing D&D with friends in the maths room at lunch times when we were probably 11 or 12 which started us down this long and dark path. We soon graduated to Runequest (3rd edition as published by GW) which was our mainstay for sometime before we moved on to one of the holy Trinity. WFRP.




Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay was first published in 1986, a year before Rogue Trader and Fantasy Battle 3rd Edition. Remarkably it didn't get a second edition till 2005 (Fantasy got 4th in 92, 5th in 96, 6th in 2000, 7th in 2006 and 8th in 2010 - 40k 2nd came out in 93, 3rd in 98, 4th in 04, 5th in 08, 6th in 12 and 7th in 14) so is one of the longest in service books of the entire GW range. As a reader and player WFRP has had a far more profound effect on the way I view the Warhammer world than any other publication and as it predates a lot of the world building that went on in later books and editions, even if you are not a Roleplayer, it's a vital book to have in your collection.


GW started out as a distributor of other peoples products. Their biggest market was the selling of Dungeons and Dragons and other TSR games and merchandise in the UK. They also provided the money to start Citadel so that they could sell miniatures to Roleplayers. Most of Citadel's early lines focused on providing adventurers and beasts to be used in their games. As the company grew they expanded the products that they distributed and they began to print and publish them in the UK as importing the finished items from the states was obviously too expensive. This is why you have GW versions of things like Middle-Earth Roleplaying game, Runequest, Call of Cthulhu, Stormbringer and Traveller. Add to this licensing agreements with 2000Ad and the BBC (Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper, Doctor Who) and you start to see the volume of products that they were producing. Up until 86 GW only produced Warhammer Fantasy Battle with that brand name. Other games they created and released around that time were things like Chainsaw Warrior, Curse of the Mummy's Tomb, Chaos Marauders etc but these were boxed 'games' rather than miniatures or roleplaying games.



WFRP, therefore, was a leap for the 10 year old GW. An entirely new Roleplaying game based in the sketch of the world they had created for their Battle rules (which in fairness they had created to allow people to battle with their growing collection of figures - or to encourage people to but more of their figures to allow them to play - depends how cynical you are feeling). What WFRP does is to colour in the Warhammer world (even if they only use Black, White and Red). WFRP is the book that creates the look and feel of the Old World and in particular, the Empire. Everything that comes after has been based on the template begun in that book.

Before we start to wallow in the atmosphere of the Old world it's worth a short amount of time to look at the debt WFRP owes to the RPG's that went before it. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay has no real precedent amongst GW games. Although set within the same world as Fantasy Battle it contains none of the mechanics of it's older sibling, nor does it bare any similarities to Rogue Trader which could be described as 'Tabletop roleplaying game', it does, of course keep the same stat line which is it's main connection to it's sister systems. Instead of D6's it uses percentile dice (2 d10's) for most of it's mechanics and gives it's characters skills to learn and benefit from. This is very similar to Runequest's mechanics and as we have already seen, this was game distributed by GW anyway. It's even more interesting to note that the basic RQ system was used as the basis for the Basic Roleplaying System published by Greg Stafford and Lynn Willis. BRP was a simplified version of the RQ mechanics and was then used by Chaosium Inc on a wide variety of other RPG's most notably Stormbringer and Call of Cthulhu, both of which were again published by GW in the Uk. It's not a huge leap of imagination to assume that the RG/BRP system had an influence on the developing WFRP mechanics and for those of us who used to play both systems it seems self evident.


While we are mentioning Call of Cthulhu and it's influence on WFRP we should mention how the 'feel' of CoC made it's way in to WFRP. CoC concerns itself with the struggles of dramatically average people against the machinations of extra-dimensional beings. From ancient aliens and pan-dimensional demons to galaxy devouring god-beasts, the scale of the horror faced by the PC's is overwhelming. This is reflected in the game system by the use of insanity points showing the slow degradation of the human capacity to cope with the scale of the realities they are forced to deal with. Not only does this particular mechanic make it's way into WFRP but the investigation paradigm comes along with it. Characters aren't just charging into rooms, fighting the inhabitants and reaping the rewards, they are having to gather clues and work out patterns and actually figure out what the hell is going on. The idea that they are just pawns within another beings machinations is a common theme within WFRP adventures, especially the enemy within campaign, and it is a direct descendant from CoC. This fostering of the the feeling that you are just a small part of a massive plot is the true strength of WFRP. This is the root of the 'Pathetic Aesthetic' and is such an important part of the game. The PC's start off as basic country bumpkins who have decided that life and death in small rural town is too depressing to comprehend and have gone of to seek their fortune. As they are woefully unprepared for the what the Old World has to throw at them they go off into the wider world and find themselves embroiled in situations that require far more flexibility in the thinking department than in the muscle department. In fact it is horrifically easy to be severely injured or just plain killed in WFRP, especially early in a characters development. The overarching machinations of gods and cults are translated from Cthulhu's old ones to the God's of Chaos (liberally borrowed from Moorcock's Elric/Eternal Champion series). The scale of a human is horrifyingly small in comparison.


To frame this feeble adventuring in a context, WFRP creates a world based around 15t/16th century Europe, more specifically, The Holy Roman Empire. What is now Germany and various other central european states, were in fact a huge conglomeration of statelets nominally under the sway of an elected Emperor. These states may be Bishoprics, Cities, Dukedoms, Principalities and host of other titles and polities. The Holy Roman Empire existed between 962 and 1806, wasn't Roman and wasn't particularly holy but was an incredibly powerful and important political entity. Any part of that near millenia of time could have been used to base a game upon but GW went for an approximation of the 16th Century and it is worth having a little wander through the events to give us an idea of why it was sutiable. The 16th Century saw the flowering of the Renaissance, the rediscovery of the knowledge of the Greeks and the Romans and ideas of Islamic science, the flowering of art and invention and the development of war into an international concern. The reformation brought religious conflict to the heart of Europe and pitted once friendly neighbours against each other over the correct way to worship god. Charles the V became ruler of more of Europe than any previous ruler (Holy Roman Empire, Spain (and it's Empires), The Low-Countries to name but the largest parts) due to the culmination of centuries of dynastic intermarriages. The printing press became a reality and the distribution of books and pamphlets spread knowledge and propaganda as well as fostering the skill of reading. As far as opportunity for adventure goes, there was a hell of a lot happening at the time. At the start of the century the Italian Wars dragged on, sucking France, Spain the HRE into a series of petulant invasions and ploys. These wars saw the rebirth of the common infantryman as the king of the battlefield, a single peasant with an arquebus could bring down a Knight who had spent his life training to use the arms and armour that cost more then the estate the peasant was brought up on. The armies took more and more young unemployed men and forged them into companies of mercenaries and gave them a life they could never have imagined. The Landsknecht with his puff and slash clothing was instantly distinguishable from merchant or peasant as they were exempt from Sumptuary laws which restricted the clothes people were allowed to wear in an attempt to reinforce class boundaries and good christian dress.

Can't resist a bit Of Angus McBride

The Peasants revolt in 1524/25 saw an uprising of common folk against the oppression of their masters and for a time huge bands of armed workers roamed the countryside looting and threatening towns and churches, one of these was led by a knight who had replaced his missing arm with an articulated steel fist. The peasants were defeated (or if they contained too many ex-landsknechts. paid off) by armies of professional soldiers and experienced cavalry forces. War in Scandinavia and in the east against the Turk as well as the wars between the christian states in to the east of the Empire meant that there was always an need for experienced troops and leaders. Internal wars within the Empire such as the one against the Schmalkaldic League meant that the division and low level warfare were never far from the surface. The Dutch Revolt dragged on for nearly 80 years and started in 1566, the population of the low-countries was too small to sustain this kind of warfare so Mercenaries were a necessity and the protestant lords with the Holy Roman Empire were only too happy to send foot and cavalry (in the form of pistol armed Rieters) to support the cause against the very catholic Spanish. At the same time the end of the Italian wars had left France in disarray with a powerful queen mother propping up a series of her useless sons as king. The French Wars of Religion (although it wasn't all about the Religion) dragged on until the start of the 17th C and again it was necessary for the protestant forces to hire troops from their neighbours in order to field effective armies against their Royalist or opponents. Add to this the exploration of the new West as well as ancient east and you can see the scope for adventure that 16th century conatained. Add in magic from folklore, Chaos from Moorcock and people the world with creatures from Tolkein and D&D and you have a potent mix.

I could do another post on the Influence Albrecht Durer could be said to have had on the development of the aesthetic of the Warhammer world.

It is perhaps worth noting that the GW image of the Imperial forces in full puff and slash clothing didn't develop till later. A lot of the illustrations in the WFRP rulebook are fairly standard late medieval influenced Fantasy, indeed many of the illustrations had appeared in previous warhammer publications. Tons Acklands illustrations of the careers that the adventurers could follow perhaps give the best images of the populace of the Empire. As the Enemy Within campaign developed a deeper and more detailed picture of the Empire was built up and John Blanche and Russ Nicholson in particular appear to have referenced 16thC fashion in the illustrations. This combined with the Perry brothers habit of making their fantasy figures incredibly historical (to the point where you are able to use most of the figs as their historical counterparts) is where the heavy aesthetic link between The Holy Roman Empire and the Empire of the Old World. In a way it's not WFRP that built the Empire but The Enemy Within.



I started by mentioning that WFRP out lived both of it's contemporary siblings but It's worth examining that situation a little more deeply. Despite all the support and publications that went into WFRP there was a realisation that it didn't actually sell anything but books. Publishing is hard business to make money in and if you've got other products that help you to sell miniatures, paints, brushes etc then obviously that looks more alluring. GW set up Flame publications in 89 in order to concentrate the RPG material under a specific label. After publishing a set of campaign books (the Doomstones campaign, adapted from a D&D campaign written by a freelancer ironically) the encountered financial issues (shortly after the management buyout of GW, no raised eyebrows at the back) and closed in 92. This left WFRP in limbo while FB and 40K bot all the attention. A new Italian version with some rewritten sections and new illustrations came it in 94 and gained some attention and the following year Hogshead Publishing gained the license to reprint the original rulebook and some of the existing supplements. GW retained a veto on the contents of new material as they wished to retain the authority to avoid story or content straying into areas that weren't canon (as the neck beards like to call it). After Hogshead was sold in 2002 the license returned to GW who used Black Industries (and off shoot of the Black Library) to launch a new version of WFRP in 2004. This version updated the warhammer world to bring it into line with contemporary version of the Warhammer world that could be seen in 6th Edition Fantasy Battle. New campaigns and adventures were published as well as various different language versions. In 2008 Black Industries stepped away from the RPG market (Games Workshop seems to take this step every so often) and a moth later Fantasy Flight games declared they had been awarded the license to publish RPG's based on the Warhammer world(s). This arrangement lasted till last year and all FFG Warhammer products will be officially discontinued as of this month. 

So there you have it. The weird literary sibling with the german accent and no discernible muscles is no more. Gw created a unique roleplaying game by taking lessons form successful RPG's and setting it a world ripe for development and adventure, with enough of an historical basis to make the humanity of it's Characters a vital part of it's charm. Having created it the game helped to create the world that kept Fantasy alive for so many years. As the Oldhammer world died the game that helped to bring it to life was being put to rest as well.

Maybe it's time to give the original another spin and see what all the fuss was about 30 years on.

Cheers 


18 comments:

  1. Amazing post. WFRP is one of my favorite games. Although I do feel 2nd. ed. It's a better ruleset, the atmosphere of 1st cannot be topped.

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    1. The big problem I have with 2e is that the wizards are all in state-controlled guilds. 1e had 'independent' wizards, who could be as roguish as any of the other characters, had had to seek out new spells, etc., which meant that the temptations of darker magic were always present. But 2e's insistence that all wizards - excepting hedge wizards, necromancers etc., are members of the Colour Colleges always feels, to me, to limit possibilities.

      Plus, what about wizards from Tilea, or Estalia, or even Marienburg? Luckily there is a fan-supplement putting all this magic back.

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    2. Andy, I've never really run into that problem. Every game I've played in our run limited magic users to NPCs anyway. It's hard to play up the pathetic aesthetic when the players are slinging around spells. And if the magic user is an NPC, the GM can do what ever he/she wants.

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    3. It's probably more of a setting thing than an actual play problem - run a lot of 1e, not much 2e at all.

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    4. I ove the fact that in 1e the spells are generally really useless :)

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  2. Wifferp? Nonsense! It is, and always will be, Wuffrup!

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  3. Thanks, enjoyed reading that, cup of tea in hand. I thought that I'd read everything there was to know about early WH and WHFRP but you managed to throw in lots of new insight.

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  4. I loved this game and spent many a weekend with a bunch of guys travelling the old world

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  5. I'm not aware of the Black Library WFRP books. As far as I'm aware there was nothing between the 2nd edition by Hogshead and the 3rd by FFG. Is there a list anywhere of what Black Industries published for WFRP?

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    1. And which version of the fans they were for!

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    2. The Hogshead editions were just reprints of 1st. I don't know that it's still there, but drive thru RPG had most of the second edition stuff available last time I checked.

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  6. I recently managed to purchase an original WFRP hardback to replace our ones that fell apart by overuse. We played the hell out of that game. Still one of my favourite settings and style: if you are the best of the very best at what you do, you've still got a 50% chance of failing.

    Now I've just got to find someone to play it with.

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  7. Why not sir, I'd be happy to PC or GM if your up for it. Like yourself and others that read this blog I'm on half-term now so we could make it happen.

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  8. Wfrp 1e still alive at the facebook group Wfrp first edition fans. As yet no 2nd edition group.

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  9. Love WHFRP. Best game I have never played.

    There are rumors that someone has picked up the license for a 4th edition... hopefully to do away with the crazy dice/cards and crap of the FFG version.

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