Saturday, 2 July 2011

WFRP: my on-off affair with a great RPG

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, or WFRP for short, was a game I was always interested in playing, from the moment Games Workshop announced it back in 1985 (I think!) At the time I was playing a lot of D&D, and was intrigued by the alternative setting and approach it outlined. I wondered if WFRP heroes could be somehow compatible with the battle game, which I was also interested in playing, but didn't have the money for!

I really only got a chance to play it at Dragonmeet one year, I think it was 2003, an excellent one-shot about a group of ne'er-do-wells sent on a mission to Kislev. It ended up as a TPK, but it was great fun, and several of us cried with laughter in the course of the session. After that I've been able to dip into the game a couple of times, once via a short campaign in Marienberg, and later when Ben ran The Enemy Within using the second edition of the game (we only got as far as Shadows Over Bogenhafen before that group ruptured).

We got another chance to dust off 2e WFRP last night, and were back to Marienberg as members of a gang seeking to recover old turf in the southern docks district. WFRP is ideal for these sorts of gritty, street-level campaigns. I'm playing a Norse pirate who missed the hangman's noose by a whisker, and is now an enforcer for the gang. I've not got a chance to use his berserk special ability, due to the fact that it requires a full round action to get there (unlike Pathfinder barbarians who can switch it on like a light with their first action).

Note - have you noticed how nearly all Scandinavians you meet in real life are the nicest, most mild-mannered and polite people you could hope to meet? Did they export their violent types to Britain and Russia in the Dark Ages, leaving the remaining gene pool to get on swimmingly with each other and the rest of Europe? Contrast the behaviour of British and Scandinavian holidaymakers in Spain, and you may have your answer...;)

Warhammer, yes. It's a nice little game, and not too overwhelming. PCs are underpowered, and have to make Fear checks when they face the supernatural, unlike your Pathfinder thugs. In our game we visited the Moby Dick (!) tavern, one of the few locations our gang still controls, and spotted a rival gang member selling drugs. We interrogated him in our fighting pit under the tavern (used for rigged gladiatorial contests), and found out he belonged to the Black Dogs, a young gang that has usurped ours (we're called the Jolly Butchers, on account of our also owning a butcher's shop).

Our party is composed of myself the Norse heavy (Thug, ex-Pirate), a rather slow dwarf, a very young smuggler, and I think a cutpurse/cat burglar type, but I'm not too being Friday, and having been up at 5.30 working on an article, my brain was slowing down towards the end there.

We proceeded to raid the candle shop the Black Dogs were using to process their drugs, breaking in an killing two of them in a melee. The others than surrendered and agreed to join the Jolly Butchers. We have had them tatooed with our emblem, a pig's head on the upper arm.

A couple of rat-catchers (an iconic WFRP profession) have been brutally murdered in the vicinity of the local cemetery, called The Boneyard. Because the rat catchers' guild has now gone on strike until the killer is caught, rats are multiplying in the docks district. In an effort to win credibility with the locals, we hid in the cemetery to see if we could catch the perpertrator.

First time around, we saw a couple of tomb robbers, and followed them to an address where we roughed them up a bit in an effort to find out what they were up to. Turns out they are working for Mad Eddie, a rival crime lord who controls a much bigger syndicate than the Black Dogs. We decided to leave them alone. By this time my taciturn Norse barbarian was becoming even more taciturn as the week caught up with me.

Our second stake out in the Boneyard was interrupted when one of our number (you know who you are) decided to raid a random tomb. This led to a fight with some skeleton guardians, which we won, but only because we called in our young look-out to help. We found a stash of gold which will help us to continue to fund our organisation going forwards.

That's where we left it. Hopefully we'll get a chance to play some more next Friday. I like the way the PCs are not uber-powerful, like our 13th level Pathfinder party, although the latter is still fun to play for the sheer, over-the-top munchkin factor it represents. Also, we don't have a wizard or indeed any form of spell slinger with us. This does not break WFRP. There is no need to balance parties or optimise characters like there is in Pathfinder and D&D 4e. I like the way it can cope effortlessly with a street-level, city-based campaign, and that a fight with some thugs in a basement can represent a serious encounter.

Although we were playing with the second edition rules, we did use some of the very nice cardboard pieces fron the Fantasy Flight third edition, which were of the usual high standard one has come to expect of FFG components. I'm still not convinced by WFRP 3e, but have not played it yet, so will reserve judgement until I actually have.


  1. Yes Fridays are challenging without a cafetiere of coffee in my veins!! Well done Stuart, you survived the distance. Will create a more detailed map of your assets for next week, and make sure there is more violence to keep you from the land of nod!!

  2. I think it was just the fact that I woke up at 5.30. I knew that would make it hard to stay the distance!

  3. Yes that is an insanely early start!! Madman! Will have more props for the next game to create more of a physical focus. Have a great day. Brighton is heaving!!