Friday, 9 March 2018

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Edition

Related imageI was recently gifted an original print of the amazing Realms of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness and it's something that I have not looked at in thirty years. I'm ashamed to say that I never purchased it when it first came out, and now that I have it and I'm looking at it in depth I can see so many different avenues my WFRP games could have taken.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is my favourite game of all time. If I reviewed it fully today it probably wouldn't rank very high as far as mechanics go but that's really not the point of the game at all; in my eyes, the unbalanced, easy to abuse system with it's oh-so clunky magic is a wonderful reflection of the chaotic, unfair nature of the world it is set in.

The game came into my life when I was about 17 or 18 years old. I'd been roleplaying for about four years and up until that point I had only experienced the high fantasy side of gaming; Dungeons & Dragons. Heroic deeds, flashing swords and a Hollywood realisation of the European Middle-ages kept me entertained, and the only flash of slight insanity I had experienced was through the playful Fighting Fantasy world and some Call of Cthulhu.

So, when WFRP hit it was amazing timing. I had reached my angsty, nihilistic teenager phase and, coming out of education into a country seething with unemployment, I had nothing. The cover and the content of the WFRP game perfectly reflected my mood and the sheer creativity - this pseudo-historical insanity with Monty Python-esque dark humour and a huge dose of British cynicism - really hit home.

Britain at the time was going through a huge change. This post-punk era seemed unreal and the nation, still under Thatcher, sometimes felt like it was unravelling. The British attitude was somewhat 'yes, it's all quite shit but soldier on' and WFRP seemed to capture all of those elements. The dark, grim world of perilous adventure with it's twisted humans, punkrock dwarves and social elite elves was an amazing twist on the worlds I was used to, with noble heroes and justified slaughter. Now, here was a world where everyone, from Emperor to beggar, was corruptible, damaged and on the edge of insanity. Games were dark, bleak, and dangerous, and the first few games were one of fear and concern as your worries weren't about getting enough gold to buy that new magic sword, but if you would survive the next day without being gutted, going insane or dying from some horrendous disease.

It was fantastic.

The rulebook was dripping atmosphere and it was so complete that it was all you needed to run games for years. However, alongside this incredible game was the campaign 'The Enemy Within', a sprawling adventure about corruption, madness, cultists and sheer bloody carnage. 'The Enemy Within' is one of the campaigns that I feel all gamers thinking of designing their own campaign should read to see how it's done. It not only tells an amazing story but it fills out the Old World wonderfully.

A second edition came along and, as much as I enjoyed it and even preferred the rules, it never captured the essence of WFRP for me. The third edition came and it was very well designed and a good game to play, but it lacked longevity for my preferences. Even Zweihander, with all the obvious love and attention the writers put in to the game, couldn't unseat my favoured edition. I always end up returning to first edition, partly for nostalgia but mostly because the atmosphere the books evoked was just all-encompassing, and really helped me set the tone of the games I designed.

WFRP will always be my favourite game. It's not my favourite gaming system, but the rules and the setting sit so well together - and the game itself came along at just the right time for me - it's going to be nigh on impossible to unseat it from that lofty pedestal that I've put it on.

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