Wednesday, 20 December 2017

RPG Review - Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Edition PDF

Released through Cubicle 7

Now, I’ve reviewed this game before so I am including my original fanboy rave about the game below but be warned – this edition is my favourite game of all time, I can’t hide that, so the review is going to be somewhat biased. I would apologise for that but I simply won’t - this game is the one that has bought me so much fun and joy in all my years of GMing.

I’d been playing RPGs for a very short time when Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay came out. I’d primarily been taking part in other people’s campaigns and I wanted to do something of my own, get hold of and GM a system that nobody else in my gaming circle had played. I had read the background of Warhammer Fantasy Battle and enjoyed it immensely and so when I saw the softback version of the rulebook I snapped it up. As it turned out, I never got much use out of it until a few years later. Now it’s my favourite fantasy RPG of them all.

It was an incredibly well-presented book. I’ll admit it was the cover art that caught my attention (a dwarf with a mohican? I’ll have me some of that!). It says on the cover that this is a ‘grim world of perilous adventure’. They’re not wrong. Warhammer’s Old World was dark and moody, down and dirty, with heretics, mutants and danger at every corner and chaos, monsters and devils in every shadow. It really was one of the first, if not the first, dark fantasy settings. There weren’t many shining knights in armour and dashing heroic types here. No, this was darker and much more sinister. If you wanted to play a desperate character up to his eyeballs in mud and filth then this was the game to play.

This new PDF release from Cubicle 7 is an incredibly clean, fully bookmarked document that’s excellent for gaming. It’s not straightforward scans of pages, with all the roughness that involves, but clean, sharp pages that look like they’ve come straight from the original source.

The book also includes the colour plates from the original Games Workshop edition, unlke the Humble Bundle they released recently. These are very clean and beautiful to look at and was one of the wonderful things about the original book; page upon page of bleak, black-and-white grimness and then a sudden explosion of colour. It also incorporates the Hogshead version with all the errata corrections that version implemented, so the rulebook is fully up to date.

I used this on my tablet and it worked really well, the bookmarks especially were really helpful, but this is a huge book so expect some screen flipping as you use it. I’m okay as I’ve been playing this game over three decades so I know where to look, but for newer players to the game and the book it is well worth your time reading through it cover to cover and absorbing the whole thing. Game-stopping book-reading screen-flipping moments are a pet hate of mine during gameplay and while I understand that this cannot always be avoided, it can be made worse by sorting through a PDF reader. Is that me? Is it because I’m a bit of a grognard and I’m used to flipping through books and feel that PDFs slow things down? Most likely. This PDF has been created to take that into account, so it’s easy to use and reference. There are no doubt PDF gurus out there who can find what they need with a swipe of a finger.

The system is primarily percentile based and uses all of the different dice, from 1D4s to 1D20s. The system is simple – roll your percentage skill rating or under to succeed. This is used for both normal skill use and combat. The statistics are closely modelled on the original Warhammer Fantasy Battle stats with a few more thrown in to expand the character’s depth. You start with the normal fantasy tropes – you can play men, elves, dwarfs or halflings.

Then we get to the interesting part during character creation – the careers. Careers will decide on how the character starts out and, as they progress through play, they also decide where they will end up and what skills and skill increases they with gather. Starting skills are decided randomly, from Rat Catcher to Academic to Boatman – there certainly are plenty. These careers not only decide how a character starts out but how they progress through their adventuring life. You see, careers have career exits, which means once you have completed a career (i.e. bought all the skills and skill improvements using experience points gained in gameplay) you can then move on to the next career that your current career allows you to. This next career then gives you more skills to purchase and more skill improvements to take.

It sounds simple, and in many ways it is, but it really isn’t easy to follow to the letter. The career system can be restrictive on a character as it takes away some of the illusion of free will and only allows a limited path of progression. This can easily be avoided with a house rule or two but it’s one of those systems that you either love or hate. Personally, I really like it and so did my players, but it’s easy to see why some people don’t like it as it can feel like the type of character you randomly rolled is limiting you on how you flesh out your character.

Then there’s the magic system.

Oh, my.

It’s a big part of the book – like, really really big – and it’s filled with different kinds of magic, such as Illusionists, Necromancers and Elementalists. It uses a magic point system, which is something I don't have a problem with, but where it falls to the ground is the need for ingredients. When some of these ingredients are things like ‘Giant’s Brains’, you get the impression that hunting supplies is going to be an adventure in itself and the wizard of the group is going to be hulking around a backpack full of brains. It’s not very well laid out and can be confusing, and subsequently there were never very many magic users in my gaming groups.

All in all the system works well and is easily modified if you need to make any house rules. The combat system is based around using miniatures of course (it was Games Workshop, after all) but I’ve never run a game where I had to use them. That’s all fine, but the first edition of the game has been around for three decades so why would people other than old-school fans like me need it now?

I’ll tell you why – this book has everything. It has character creation, combat rules, rules for skills, complete career charts, a complete magic system, the history of the Old World, a map and world description, rules for travelling by boat and cart, rules for diseases and madness, a complete pantheon and how to use it, gaming tips, adventure tips and seeds, a massive bestiary and lots more besides. What I love about this book is that it has every single thing you need to run not only a few adventures but a string of entire campaigns set in the Old World. You don’t need to buy the rulebook and then a glut of other guides to complete the set or make a playable game or gameworld – all you need to get you fully started is this one, solitary book to get you completely immersed into the genre and the setting, and the other supplements and adventures come later to fill it out. I have run literally hundreds of games where I have bought the rulebook and other supplements to the gaming table and I have only ever needed to rulebook.

I've also used this book to run other fantasy-based games set outside the Warhammer universe. By allowing players to choose their careers and career paths they had complete control over how their character's progressed. With very few modifications and interpretations I managed to use the rules in a variety of fantasy settings, from dark to historical to high fantasy – I even used it in the Warhammer 40K universe using the original WH40K ‘Rogue Trader’ rulebook as guidance, and even though it took a little work it played really well.

I still have my original rulebook from the 1980s, but this PDF will make transporting my favourite game around so much easier. Yes, the rules can be clunky and the career and magic system need tweaking and house ruling but it’s still a wonderfully atmospheric game that invokes my favourite world of grim and perilous adventure perfectly.

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