The Ride Never Ends, Post 1
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Edition
The Ride Never Ends, Post 1
I want to begin with a disclaimer that this is entirely a review/analysis based on a readthrough, not actual play. I have not run or played WHFRP1e. However, reading it was really goddamn interesting in looking at how it was changed to create WHFRP2e. I'm always interested in what changes between editions of a game and why. Plus, I think WHFRP1e is actually really interesting on its own for a game that is as old as I am (Literally; it was written in the same year I was born!). 1e is also intriguing because a lot of it seems to have been brought back for 4th edition. It's a very different game from its descendants, but you can still see all of their bones present here in this first book. Also, as someone who got way too goddamn deep into the fluff in 2e, it's really interesting to read material from back when the fluff was still forming and coalescing. I was really fascinated by how Chaos is treated in this first book, and by how front and center a bunch of the 'the world was seeded by mighty sci-fi technowizards' stuff was originally compared to later. Heck, Sigmar's a minor God who doesn't grant spells because he's just patron of the Imperial Family and mostly worshiped as an act of civic pride and loyalty.
The other reason I want to cover it is because for all that it starts with A Grim World of Perilous Adventure it has some surprising GMing advice for a game written in 1986. It's much more player-positive than you'd expect; Fate Points were originally conceived as a way to show you were special without actually making you 'special' and they've added a lot to every edition I've read. There are some really surprising bits where the game outright tells you not to be too rough on the players and to watch and see how pessimistic they seem to be; if the players are down, you need to lighten up and make the game more fun and less punishing. Yes, you can definitely die from an unlucky encounter with a badger in 1e (I'm not exaggerating) but the spirit is still there. That sense that the game is partly interested in looking tougher than it is was there in the beginning.
As was the thing that made WHFRP so attractive to me: The sense that player characters really are still part of the world. And that adventurers are kind of nuts. Adventuring isn't an exalted profession like in D&D. Adventurers are weirdos. One of the things I like about WHFRP is the sense that your background really matters; what you did before you decided to quit your day job and try to fight goblins for better pay is a building block of your character and was from day 1, edition 1. Being an ex carnival strongman actually gives you huge advantages in its own way, which is hilarious. At the same time, the beginnings of the Career system really get at why they worked hard to standardize starting careers in 2e: You roll for a ton more stuff and can come into the game pretty useless much more easily than 2e.
The other thing that made me want to cover it is that 1e is a fucking mess, but it's a really interesting mess! It's written with a serious enthusiasm for trying to model everything and anything, but it's actually kind of neat? There's a special rule for everything, there were no Talents, and Skills worked like a sort of mixture of Skills and Talents at the same time. There are honestly a few things where I'd say 2e faltered some in adapting or simplifying stuff! That's not something I expected before I read the book; I actually think 2e's treatment of Basic Skills is significantly more restrictive than 1e in most cases, though I also see why it was doing what it was doing from a point of view of standardizing. If there's one thing I'd say 1e told me 2e was doing, it's trying to cut out subsystems and exceptions and special rules and move the rules into a much more standardized system. At the same time, the crazy enthusiasm of 1e is fun. There's an entire subsystem for detecting poison in your food or wine based on taste and enhanced by whether or not you're a good cook! It's nuts, but also a surprisingly interesting way to make a bunch of the skills that don't sound so useful actually do something for an adventurer, which is neat in its own way.
1e is a huge mess, but the surprise that made me want to cover it is that I honestly think I could sit down with my group, run a game of 1st edition WHFRP, and still have a good time. I'd rather play the later editions, and I'll continue to do so when my group plays WHFRP, but honestly 1e doesn't look like a bad game! Especially not for the time it was written. So here goes, on the first appearance of the grim world of perilous adventure!
(It still had the Small, But Vicious Dog. That's been in every edition, like God intended)
Next Time: Basic Rules, Character, and Career: 1st Edition
Cool and Willpower, Fellowship and Leadership
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1e
Post 2: Cool and Willpower, Fellowship and Leadership
One of the first things you notice on looking at stats in WHFRP 1e is that there are a lot more of them. There's no general Agility stat, replaced with Initiative, but compared to 2e we also add in Dexterity, Cool, Willpower, and Leadership. You will also notice Strength and Toughness do not have percentile stats in 1e. They're 'just' the stats that would have been denoted as SB and TB in 2e and onward. As in, a starting human PC has 2-4 Strength, rather than a 22-40 Strength that generates a 2-4 SB in 2e. This is a little awkward; removing some of the redundant stats in 2e was one of its good changes. Something else you notice when looking at stats in 1e: Elves are fucking nuts. You remember how elves got +10 BS and Agi in 2e, plus some fairly useful talents, at cost of having 1-2 Fate and fewer Wounds? Elves in 1e got: +10 WS, +30 Init, +10 Dex, +10 Ld, +20 Int, +20 Cool, +10 WP, and +10 Fel compared to a human. That's even more than they get in 4e, where they actually got a bit more hammered by wasting time on Elf Time and having to split their insanely limited metacurrency points between both Fate and Resilience to try to balance this in some way. In general, species modifiers are huge in 1e, compared to 2e. 4e's higher species modifiers are almost certainly an intentional throwback to this.
Also note original flavor Hams Elves were not, in fact, better shots than humans.
Anyway, you roll for stats, as you'd expect. There are no rerolls and no Shallya's Mercy rules; you just roll down the line and come what may. You also have fewer Wounds, and you roll for your Movement as well as your other stats, which is a bit odd to me. You will also quickly note that WHFRP 1e uses all sorts of dice, not just d10s. A human character has about 5-7 starting Wounds (d3+4), for instance. Elves are 4-6 (d3+3), Dwarfs 6-8, and Halflings 4-6 like Elves. Like always, all the percentile stats are 2d10+Mod, with 20 being the base mod, 10 indicating a stat your species is bad at, and anything above 20 being something you're good at. S and T are determined with d3+1 for humans and elves, d3+1 for Str and d3+2 for dwarfs, and d3 for both for halflings. Dwarfs are good at the same things dwarfs always are, just moreso; they get terrible Fellowship, for instance, but great Cool and Leadership, they're tough, they're great at fighting, but they're slow and have poor dexterity. Halflings are mostly good at Dex and Init, and due to some silly stuff they're your main source of good thieves and rogues because elves in 1e are mostly averse to stealing shit and need an abnormally high Init to actually become thieves.
Nothing too groundbreaking, but it's interesting to note: A: Your chance of having an above or below average S and T is much higher using this method than 2e's method, which given 2e was trying to keep S and T fairly tightly controlled was certainly intentional and B: Your species matters way more.
Another thing that stands out: You have Alignment in WHFRP1e. Alignment was dropped from WHFRP in 2e and never really came back, but WHFRP's ideas about Alignment are actually pretty interesting. They're much closer to what you find in Moorcock's novels than D&D. PCs have their starting Alignment determined by their species (Elves are Good, everyone else is Neutral) if this is your first game; the book says you can pick Alignments afterwards and they can shift in play based on what the GM sees. Alignments go on an axis from Lawful to Good to Neutral to Evil to Chaotic. Note that both Lawful and Chaotic are dicks; Lawful characters seek to make the world a place of eternal stasis even if they provide some sense of order, Chaotic characters would see everything on fire all the time so that new things can replace it. The difference is, Chaos is not simply a force of corruption and evil in 1e. The Dark Gods certainly are, but in many ways some of the Gods of the pantheon seem meant to be 'good' Chaos, the need for the world to be able to change and renew itself rather than just mindless destruction. Neutral is also described as the alignment of the open-minded, who are aware there is a place for both Law and Chaos in the world. By contrast, Good characters don't have much of an opinion on the cosmic scale (but might lean towards Law) but just try to be decent people. Evil characters are just dicks who are okay with hurting people to get success and money.
It's interesting to see a setting that actively likes Neutrality. Alignment mostly ended up vestigial to WHFRP from what I can tell, so later editions just tossed it out the window. Especially since by the time 2e came out the old 'Evil Gods of Law that oppose Chaos and have to be balanced out with it' element had been tossed and Chaos had lost its positive elements. Also note that as far as I can tell, the actual Chaos Gods do not have 'positive' attributes. They are simply Chaos in its destructive and shitty form.
Anyway, after rolling your stats, you check to see which of the general types of Careers you actually qualify for (Warrior needs WS 30+, Ranger BS 30+, Rogue Init 30+ (65+ as Elf), and Academic WP and Int 30+). You then choose which of those 4 general Career tables you roll on for your starting Career. You also get extra skills based on your general 'class' of Career type, and can move more easily among Careers of similar classes when advancing. I note this was also brought back in concept for 4e. You also roll for Age, deciding if you want to be a young or older PC. All species used to be able to start out as young as 16, I note; the original setting seems to have had everyone hit young adulthood at the same age and then just age much slower afterwards. Age actually has a significant game effect: It decides how many random extra skills you get (d4+Age Modifier), with very young or very old characters starting the game less able. 30-somethings (or equivalent for their species) are the mechanically optimal adventurer!
Similarly, once you have a Career rolled, you actually still dice off for some of its skills. For instance, a Student has a 10% chance to know a TON of various skills, to represent just how hard they worked in school. Lots of Careers also demand you pick a 'sub-career'. For instance, an Entertainer might pick Strongman and get the Strongman skill from it, or pick Tightrope Walker and get Acrobat and Scale Sheer Surface (Note: Why would you then ever take Acrobat, who only gets Acrobat?) Basic Careers are not at all balanced, and gleefully so; this is meant to be another part that randomizes your character's power. I much prefer the approach in 2e, both mechanically and because I think it got across a general theme of ordinary people being surprisingly capable much better.
You also grab Fate Points, which are only really used for extra lives as far as I can tell. There is no equivalent to Fortune Points. Fate is curiously tied to the species' importance to history. Elves are waning, so get 1-2. Humans are important, and so get 2-4. Dwarfs get 1-3, halflings get 1-4. Fate is also directly tied to divine attention and the spirit of the planet; you can gain more Fate by gaining the favor and attention of the Gods or working towards the fate of the world. This bit of curious framing was mostly removed in later editions, with it being made clearer that variances in starting Fate had a lot more to do with the apparent mechanical power of the character's species and that having more Fate was the human advantage.
After all that, you put together your trappings and buy 1 Advance from your starting Career, and you're ready to go. Character creation in 1e is much as character creation is in all of the Hams Fantasy RPGs. It's reasonably quick, but 1e is exceptionally random and unconcerned with trying to balance out your options. You rolled day laborer, you deal with it. At least most of the shittier starting Careers can be finished in like 2-3 advances, but this doesn't really make up for how one PC might've started with 1400 EXP worth of Skills from a Career while another has 100. In general, I think 2e significantly improved on its predecessor in terms of starting characters and character creation. Similarly, elves are crazy. I really, really prefer the 2e elves over 'the elf is better at absolutely everything'.
Next Time: Example PC
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Edition
Post 3, Randomness
I should also note a really interesting bit in the 'what is this game about' part just before character creation. I will quote directly, because it warms my heart to see this stated so clearly in a game from 1986: "The GM cannot 'win' as such. His aim should be to provide an interesting and demanding game for the players. Because of his unique position, the GM could kill off a player's character at any time, but that is not the idea of the game and should not be the aim of the GM." It's really nice to see a game that starts right off the bat with 'Adversarial GMing is kind of a dumb idea, because the GM has ultimate power to do whatevs and so 'killing the players' isn't a good gaming goal for the GM. One of the things that stands out for me throughout the whole book is that the GMing advice is surprisingly good. It focuses on trying to find ways to provide a challenge and force players to make plans or feel tense without focusing on killing everyone all the time (because players will enjoy advancing and sometimes seeing their clever plans succeed). Fate Points likely come out of this mindset as a nice way to cushion lethal situations and damage, letting you still throw nasty stuff that could go either way at players without TPKing them all the time.
A friend of mine always said his impression of 2e was that it wants to look meaner than it is, so that when you somehow succeed it feels great. Considering that's an explicit goal of 1e's GMing advice, I'd say that's very likely true in 2e as well. Now on to making some example people.
So, we'll be making two people to see how differently they come out. I'll even roll for their species; d4 to see who they are. Rolls are 2 (Elf) and 1 (Human). Rolling d4 for species isn't normally in the game, but I can't make one of everybody. We'll do the human first, because then we'll have something to compare the elf to. I start out by rolling 2d10 down the line (except for d3 for Movement, Wounds, S, and T) and get 5 Movement, 6 Wounds, 3 Str, 4 Toughness, plus 32 WS, 26 BS, 37 Init, 23 Dex, 29 Ld, 36 Int, 35 Cool, 26 WP, and 33 Fel. Got some real highs and lows on our would-be hero here. Somehow extremely fast and agile for a human, but can't handle fine motor control to save her life. She'll be a her. She's 5' 9" (5'+d10 Inches), and we'll say she's young. To get her age, we roll 6d6, and then if the result is under 16 we roll again and add them together. She's 22, which is in a good range for a human (+1 random skills) but not the best (30-40 is optimal for an adventurer at +2 skills). She also rolls for Fate and gets 3, average for a human.
She rolls a d4 for how many random skills she gets and adds 1 for age. A 4 here means she has 5 skills outside her Career, and humans do not have any mandatory Random Skills, unlike everyone else. They just go right to the rolling tables. She'll be a Rogue considering her stats. Dicing off for skills, she'll be a woman of Lightning Reflexes (+10 base Init), Fleet of Foot (+1 Mv, she's lightning quick), both Silent Move Rural and Urban, and Very Resilient for +1 T. So she's basically an elite athlete who got into thievery, but who has terrible manual dexterity. Next, she rolls for Career. Getting a 66, she's a Raconteur, a wandering storyteller. This gives her Blather, Seduction, Charm, Public Speaking, Story Telling, and Wit, and a 25% chance of Etiquette. She hits it with a 20, so she actually knows her manners very well. She picks up +10 Fel as her Free Advance because hey. She'll need +10 WS, +1 Wound, +10 Ld, +10 Int, and +10 Cool before she can finish. She has to get cooler.
Something to note is these skills are a mixture of what skills would do in 2e, and what Talents do in 2e: Blather unlocks the ability to make a Fel test to try to confuse people (and to do it for a full d6 Rounds if succeeded by 10% or more), which doesn't work in combat and is used to buy time. Charm, by contrast, effectively gives +10 Fellowship (Giving her a base 53 now!). Her Silent Moves aren't even rolled for; they instead penalize the base chances of enemies to hear her at various distances in various environments. Seduction is as weird as it always is (+10 to most tests with members of the opposite sex, can make people sleep with her if they fail a WP test against her) and a product of its time. There's gonna be a lot of products of their time. Public Speaking lets her work crowds up to her Ld stat rather than just talking to small groups. Wit is a straight +10 to Bluffing and Gossiping; note a lot of stuff that was a skill in 2e is just a standard test type and having various skills gives bonuses to it and/or lets it work on more people or do something new. Storytelling improves Gossiping and Busking by 10%. Note that all this taken together means if she's gossiping among people attracted to her, she's at like 83% base chance of learning interesting stuff already; she's really good at her chosen job off the bat. I'm talking in detail about starting skills here because it's a good place to get across a sampling of them without having to go hard on them.
Also, being extremely good at running away very quickly (and able to hold her liquor or take a punch) seems like a good talent for a wandering storyteller and lady of wit. Mia Becker is tough, quick on her feet, and has long since incorporated her butterfingers and poor manual dexterity into a talent for physical comedy. The way she does pratfalls, one almost wouldn't notice that doing them without hurting herself takes enormous physical grace that her shakey hands don't seem to match. She looks like a fun character to play, honestly.
Next up, I'm grabbing the Elf Name Generator from 4e and going in on an Elf. I should also note here that 1e's fluff for the High Elves really plays up that the ones in the Old World are often shitty first world tourists on trust funds having 'adventure vacations' and 'slumming it', which I adore. I've always run/written Ulthuan as the Hams 1st World because it's fun and I'm glad to know it was the original take in the RPG! Galolric will be our elf, and he starts out rolling stats: 6 Movement (d3+3), 5 Wounds, 4 Strength, 2 Toughness. Note outliers in Str and Tough are much more common in 1e since they're 1/3 of rolls. He's buff, but always skipped cardio. However, he has a natural 49 WS, 22 BS (lol), 69 Init (leaving Mia in the dust), 40 Dex, 42 Ld, 55 Int, 58 Cl, 45 WP, and 46 Fel. Not only did he have higher stats in general, but goddamn, I rolled like mad for this elf. The only thing he sucks with is bows. Look at how his stats are compared to Mia, it's nuts. However, he only has 1 Fate. And with 2 Toughness and 5 Wounds, he's probably gonna regret that!
Gal will be a Warrior; his stats basically demand it. He'll also be young, and he's 6' 4" (5' 6"+d10 Inches). A young elf is 10d12, min 16 like humans. Gal's 46, very young for an elf to be out and about. This just barely gives him +1 Skills. He rolls his d4 and gets a 3, so he has 4 Skills. He has to start with Excellent Vision, but also a choice of Dance, Musicianship, or Singing. He'll take Musicianship. That means he only gets 2 random rolls. Note that having no Mandatory Skills is meant to be a human advantage. He gets Lightning Reflexes and Singing. So he's really good at music in general and he's got a 79% Init from day 1. He is a buff, but poorly conditioned elf pop star or something. Rolling for Career, he's no great warrior at all, he's just someone else's Servant, escaped to try to find a life of adventure and let his natural talents show.
Servant...well, it's one of those careers that isn't very good. The only thing he's guaranteed is Dodge Blow. He has a bunch of small chances for extra skills from his day job, and does come out of it knowing Etiquette and Cooking. Etiquette is as it is in 2e: +10% with high society diplomacy. Cooking makes his field rations nicer (just a roleplaying thing) but also gives him +10 to notice poison in food or drink, because he's used to tasting stuff to see if it's 'off'. So while Mia's career made her pretty good at stuff, Gal...well, he's got big dreams, I guess. And he's good at getting out of the way, there is that. And his base stats are amazing, and for the most part, base stats can carry you further without needing skills, it seems. Plus he's good at finding work as a musician (Sing and Musicianship team up for +20 to busking tests and looking for Entertainer work) and being an elf with Excellent Vision, he has a 50% higher vision range than humans. He is a man of talent who was wasted as manservant to a shitty adventure tourist High Elf. Escaping his master after the young man passed out from one too many shots at an Altdorf bar (and stealing the guy's sword and purse), Galolric tries to pass himself off as an elven knight in training and looks for adventure in a part of the world where no-one knows he should be scrubbing the floors. He'll also grab +10 WS for his Free Advance so he's as skilled as the average Chaos Warrior.
So, both still came out interesting, but as you can see the heavy randomness really changes up what a character can do. Some of this is mitigated by the very different Skill and Test systems, and they're one place I'm not entirely sure 2e was fully an improvement; there's a part of me that really likes the idea that most characters can do most things on base stat pretty well and skills just team up to add to various test types. Skills in 1e are mostly what we would describe as Talents in 2e, and I actually suspect a lot of the '-10 to everything' adventure design in 2e was writers thinking in terms of 1e and not actually adapting to some of the lower base chances. If you wanted to challenge Gal on Init, it'd be pretty hard, after all. He and Mia could reasonably hit 'harder' tests in their specialties and things they're very good at. We'll get into all of this more next time in Skills and Tests.
Next Time: Skills, Tests, and Subsystems
Testing Your Patience
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Edition
Post 4, Testing Your Patience
Honestly, the basic resolution mechanic is exactly as it's been for every single percentile Warhammer game. Roll vs. TN on d100, if you go over TN, you fail. Under TN, you succeed. More under TN, the GM can decide you succeed by more. WHFRP 1e also had the idea that if you wanted to test two stats in short order, you could average them and get that as your TN, which is actually a good idea compared to a sequence of tests because 'Make a 50% test based on your 40% and 60% stat' is significantly less bullshit than 'Make a 40% check, then a 60% check, in sequence.' The former has way better odds! A series of tests is saved for very difficult sequences of actions, instead.
We also get an enormous number of 'standard sorts of tests', but note that effectively unless something needs a skill to be attempted (similar to a 2e or 4e Advanced Skill) PCs attempt actions at their base stat. Which is effectively like having a skill trained in 2e. Your Skills mostly give bonuses, or ways to use a test in a new way. What else is curious to me is how often a test is actually a flat number; for instance, if you try to sneak around, opponents just have a fixed chance to notice the noise at various distances (with a penalty if you have Silent Move as a Skill). You don't roll at all, you just say you want to move quietly, and they roll against it at a flat number. A pretty low one, too, as long as you can move quietly. Mia can only be heard 20% of the time unless her enemies have ways to boost their Listen test.
Every single test type listed in the standard tests is its own subsystem, and this is what makes me kind of conflicted. On one hand, I really like the idea of 'you can do most of the stuff we'd consider a Basic Skill later with base stat without needing to have any extra training, extra training and relevant abilities only help you out'. It opens up a much wider set of options for characters, and is more in line with 'I'm going to try a ton of options that aren't combat'. I think Basic Skill use is overly penalized in 2e; halving your stat if you don't actually have the skill means you'll generally never try to put yourself in a situation where you're going to rely on a Basic you don't have unless you have no other choice, even if you're great at its stat. The issue is that 1e's Tests are extremely random in how they work, and how skills will apply to them. There's no standardization. There are tables for your exact chance to find a job to work at for a little while between adventures. There's an entire subsystem for avoiding poison in your wine. Whether something uses a stat or just flat chances has no real rhyme or reason to it. Lock Picking suddenly introduces a specific Lock Rating that penalizes your chances.
In short, 1e's tests have a simple base resolution system and then a ton of 'here's how you roll for offering a bribe' or 'here's some extra rules tacked on to picking a lock', without much streamlining. 2e is much simpler, but also introduced what I think is a too-harsh penalty for not having skills compared to the original system where almost anyone could try most tactics.
2e also did another thing that instantly makes it a better game even if I see quite a bit of merit in 1e's stuff: It tossed the idea of critical fumbles out the window, into the trash, where it belongs. Yes, 1e has fumbles. Failing by 20 or more causes you problems. Failing by 30 or more can potentially injure you or cause even bigger problems, invoking a Risk test that has a 50-50 chance (generally) of causing you d3 unreducable wounds. Lots of other test types have extra fumble effects or specific fumbles that can make things worse. This is a bad idea. Critical failure rules specifically based on your chance to succeed when your chance to succeed may be 30-50% mean you have really high odds of crit-failing to one degree or another, too. Fumble rules have always sucked, but this is even worse than usual. Especially when you recall that you don't have Fortune/rerolls like you get from Fate in 2e and 4e.
Anyway, let's talk about Skills, too. Skills are another place where the game just doesn't have any sense of what an individual skill is worth, because it's not trying to. It isn't interested in trying to make skills balance against one another, it just wants to have a huge list of potential edges PCs or other characters could have from their training and experience. They're mostly fine, but it was an interesting surprise to discover that for the most part, Skills in 1e function like Talents in 2e or 4e. You also don't get any benefit from having a Skill twice, so if you rolled a random Skill or whatever but also got it from your Career, it's just wasted. One of the most annoying aspects of the Skill system is the % chance for starting skills stuff in a Basic Career. Your Physician's Apprentice can very much join the party having no idea how to do anything useful medically, because all the actual medical skills in that Career are 50% chances. Which you then have to spend EXP on if you want them, if you failed to learn them this first time.
Similarly, you can actually attempt to learn any Skill in the game outside your Career if you can get a teacher, spend some money, and the GM approves. However, if you fail a stat check to learn the skill, you waste your time, money, and the 100 EXP you spent on it. Now we see where they got that rule for learning out-of-Career Talents in downtime in 4e. In general, a lot of 4e owes a lot more to 1e than 2e on a readthrough of 1e.
Now, I certainly can't go over every goddamn Skill. There are 133 of them. Suffice to say they're usually very significant character advancements, though. And some of them are hilarious. Like Strongman. Which gives you +d4 max wounds and +1 Str, but requires you to spend more money on all the raw eggs you eat to keep yourself as buff as the Great Gama. If you lose your diet for 10 days, you lose this skill until you can spend enough money to have meat and eggs and stuff all the time for 30 days. Similarly, a very few skills have an embryonic version of Skill Mastery; Lock Picking requires the Pick Lock skill to try at all, and Pick Lock notes that you can acquire it more than once for +10 to Lockpick tests for each rank. Considering Skill Mastery went on to be a major cornerstone of 2e and 4e both, it's interesting to see its origins here with a couple edge cases. Also of note: Having Street Fighter didn't used to give you bonuses to unarmed fighting, but rather eliminated a penalty for it (originally -20 WS) while making your bare fists do the damage of a Hand Weapon. That's the sort of thing Skills do in 1e.
One thing I like is the way lots of skills that often just end up color instead give stacking bonuses to something. Being an actor might just give you the basic bonuses to busking and getting employed as a performer that most of the performance skills do, but it also makes you better at lying and gossiping since you know how to read people and react properly from getting into character. Little stuff like that helps with the thing that's attractive about WHFRP: It's always been a game where all the little flavor in your character background actually ends up mattering. The skill system here feels like a nice way to do that, combined with the more generous ability to do most sorts of tests without needing specific training.
However, it's also all over the place, and leaves you potentially at the mercy of needing massive base stats to do certain things if there don't happen to be a bunch of stacking skills that help you out with them. In general I think 2e was a step in the right direction in separating these into Skills and Talents, it just over-penalized being untrained.
Once again, what strikes me in going through 1e is that a lot of this still looks fun to play with, despite being a disorganized mess with no sense of standardization. Look at Mia; she turned out looking like a character who'd be fun to write about. The issue is primarily that it's much more likely you end up with a character who is terrible, or way behind the people who rolled well, comparatively. No mercy rules on rolling stats, no standardization or concern for balancing the base careers mean you can end up with a large gulf of ability and I think 2e was right to try to even things out.
Next Time: Murdertown
The Eternal Sorrow of T 2
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Edition
Post 5: The Eternal Sorrow of T 2
So! Combat. Combat is an important part of WHFRP, always has been, and it's significantly more dangerous (potentially) in 1e than 2e. You've always been meant to avoid combat when it's unnecessary, but it always comes up. Grim world, perilous adventure, all that; while people might say WHFRP is D&D through the lens of Call of Cthulhu, Adventurers are considerably more combat capable than Investigators. The single most interesting thing about combat in 1e relative to 2e is how much using a d6 as a damage die changes things compared to d10s. With the d6 damage die and significantly fewer Wounds, every individual wound scored matters a lot more. Moreover, it's much easier to accidentally outpace the damage die, so to speak. To help me demonstrate this, we'll be bringing in our two example PCs from earlier, Gal and Mia. But we'll also be adding the stalwart Thrunbor Grimgison, Dwarven Tunnel Fighter Who Rolled Awesome. This is at least partly because Thrunbor is the most Warhammer Dwarf name possible, but also to demonstrate just how much extra DR and wounds matter, even more than they did in 2e. Thrunbor rolled a 5 for his starting toughness, got Very Resilient as one of his Warrior random skills, has 8 Wounds, and bought his +1 T advance as a Tunnel Fighter. Thrunbor is effectively DR 9 with his shield and armor. He is also angry, about elves, orcs, and many other things.
Anyway, one of the first things that stands out about combat is that true to 80s design, there's a lot on random encounters and their composition and how often you should roll for them. This stuff is completely absent in later editions, because even RPGs that are sort of traditionalist like WHFRP mostly moved away from heavily regimented resource-grind dungeon crawling and overworld travel. This also means the entire beginning of the chapter on combat is about how to randomize position and detection ranges during a random encounter. This is a product of its time, and night vision and its range is heavily valued and carefully tracked here. An elf or dorf with night vision can very much surprise a bunch of humans in the dark. Initiative is not randomized in 1e; you go in order of Init, though a character with a very high Init may choose to act later in the round with complete freedom. None of this 'reserving actions', Gal's 79% Init means he usually goes first, but also that he can freely choose to wait for Mia to move and then act after her or something at no penalty. A higher initiative is meant to be a pure advantage and Init is very desirable.
There is no half/full round action separation in 1e; you just do one thing on your turn. The rules also forbid 'arm wrestling with dragons' or any other 'wildly unrealistic action' as the GM decides. You can follow Moving with attacking in hand to hand if you end up in base to base contact with an enemy at the end of your move. Also note that Moving is very quick; you move 2xMove Stat yards with Cautious movement (used in cramped spaces and things), 4xMove with Standard, and 16xMove when running. Moving at faster rates risks having to make Risk tests not to trip or hurt yourself, depending on circumstances; it's a bit 'GM May I'. Still, someone like Mia is lightning fast, but note also the Charge action is much more restricted: You can only Charge from 1xMovement rate away. This is because Charging gives you bonuses; +10% to the first of your attacks, and if you're using something like a Lance, you get other bonuses. So while a character with open ground can move 4xMove into combat and then make a full attack action, that wouldn't be a Charge and wouldn't get them bonuses besides just moving into combat and swinging away.
Also notable: When using a missile weapon, you only ever get one shot a round. Similarly, there's nothing like Mighty Shot or whatever in 1e. It seems like missiles are considerably weaker in 1st edition than in later games. Guns are also treated as shitty joke weapons, that 'make a lot more noise but don't do much damage'.
One of the really big differences here is that there's no Swift Attack. You make a hand to hand attack, you make ALL your hand to hand attacks. Given how the tyranny of Swift Attack is perhaps the single biggest mechanical misstep in 2e, I'm pretty tempted to just shift that into how 2e works and adapt around it. Similarly, Charging is set up as something you really want to do when possible, whereas for serious combatants in 2e due to action economy reasons, you usually wanted to get Charged and then response with Swift.
1e also has more explicit rules for forcing enemies to flee combat; people who take serious critical hits may be forced to withdraw if they can still walk. Facing is also important; you're assumed to only be able to strike at the front of your model after moving, and shields and parries only apply to people attacking from your front. There's much, much more of an assumption that you absolutely need a combat map in 1e, while 2e's combat can be simple enough to abstract.
One of the biggest changes, though? Even more than in 2e, DR is your main defense. You can attempt one Dodge a round if and only if you have the Dodge skill, making an Init test to avoid a hand to hand attack. You can also Parry once a round, if you have various appropriate weapons (most of them), but it takes up one of your Attacks for next round to do so and it doesn't outright stop the attack, just reduces its damage by d6. Parrying is thus less attractive than it was in 2e, where it can outright stop a blow. 4e went ahead and just made parry one of the default parts of combat, with a significant advantage to characters who try to oppose incoming melee attacks with a Melee skill instead of Dodge since they can score a crit and counter-crit their enemy on defensive rolls. It's interesting how the parry became significantly more and more important as the editions went on.
Another very important difference in combat is that there are no direct outnumbering rules, but rather they are rolled into Winning and Losing combat. When characters are fighting, you total the successful Wounds inflicted during a round between the two sides of combat. The side that did more Wounds 'won'. The losers are then forced back a little ways as the winner desires, and the winner can either follow up or use that to fight free of being engaged. If the winner follows up, all attacks by the winning side this next round are at +10 to hit. You might see the kernel of 4e's weird Advantage rule, but without the possibility of things snowballing; you'd be right to do so. The idea here is also that outnumbering is represented by the fact that you total the Wounds inflicted by both sides. The side with more attackers is more likely to do more Wounds and thus to 'win'.
Another very important point: You can see the origin of 4e using doubles on the percentile dice for crits here in 1e, where it's used to determine when gunpowder weapons and bombs misfire. In general, the more I read of 1e, the more it is apparent 4th edition is primarily working from 1st, not 2nd.
Critical Hits have been around since 1e, and honestly, they've been kind of bad since 1e. Crits have the issue that they have to become lethal very quickly, because the chances are you have to account for being unable to inflict more than 1-3 wounds on an opponent while still being able to finish them off, even moreso in 1e than 2e since your damage die is only a d6. Crits in 1e are also much more random, with more results but also with results varying wildly between what you roll on the percentile die for determining severity. 2e and 4e switch to a simple sliding scale instead of, say, having a 40 somehow be less devastating than a 32 but only if you've inflicted Crit +4 or more and so on. Dropped-past-zero Crits have never really added that much to Warhammer because they're so lethal so quickly, and the system for generating them in both 1e and 2e is clunky and slow. PCs' capacity to survive lethal blows tends to focus more on Fate Points than the crit system. At least in Fantasy Wounds actually work as a buffer, unlike 40k where you just get vaporized.
Now, let's talk damage, armor, and weaponry. These are significantly different than later games; armor is much less effective (though still really helpful) and the d6 damage die changes an awful lot. Similarly, weapons are both simpler and more complex at the same time. Armor is just a simulation of tabletop armor and its direct effect on armor saves. Mail armor? +1 DR. Plate armor? +1 DR. Shield? +1 DR. They stack. Leather armor is mostly worthless, reducing damage by 1 if you were only going to take 3 or less wounds, and not stacking with the metal armors; it's assumed you're wearing padding and leather under any serious armor already. Armor penalties to Init exist, but are purely at the GM's prerogative and are -10 for mail leggings, -10 for plate. Full mail and plate is less of a huge deal than in 2e, but you're not going to be sorry you wore it, and a shield is still quite helpful for the +1 DR even if you never Parry with it.
Similarly, weapons don't really have special traits unless they're described in their entry. Weapons vary instead on their modifier to Parry, their modifier to Damage, their modifier to Init, and their modifier to to-hit. For instance, a Great Weapon gives +2 damage, which is awesome when you're using a d6 for damage, but -10 Init while wielded. Also remember Init is your Dodge stat if you have Dodge. Meanwhile a Rapier is -1 damage, but +20 Init. This leads to situations where, say, a Spear is outright better than a Hand Weapon in combat because it doesn't take a special proficiency, does the same damage, has +10 Init in round 1 and any round you're winning, and gets +10 to hit against aerial foes. Flails do huge damage at the cost of to-hit penalties and needing Flail prof. Halberds are a Great Weapon with all the advantages of a spear, but -10 to hit because halberds are tricky. That kind of thing.
I've mentioned a lot that damage is d6s. There is still Fury, though it wasn't called Fury yet (which is sad, because X FURY! is a great name for a 'pile on damage' rule) and it works exactly like in 2e, save it's explicitly clear all combatants do it. The lower damage die makes it both more common, and more common that someone is going to 'double fury' and keep rolling 6s. Combine that with having very few Wounds comparatively, and you can get splatted by just about any attack with some bad luck. I'm not kidding when a say a badger can be a menace.
Let's look at our three heroes and damage to get some examples. Mia Becker is a very tough human, at 5 T. We'll say she's wearing some light leather armor, too, since she's a Rogue and Rogues love leather in every fantasy setting ever conceived, so she's not totally unprotected, while also having 6 wounds. Our man Gal the Elf has a 2 T, and no armor because he's a poor servant turned warrior of fortune, and being an elf he only has 5 wounds. Meanwhile, Thrunbor is rocking his T 7 (5 base, +1 Very Resilient, +1 Advance), plus 2 points of Armor for Mail armor and a Shield. He's also got 8 Wounds because he is a badass. Note these are all starting characters, right out of the gate. They're fighting Str 3 Beastmen. Each hero takes a hit and their enemy rolls a 6, but doesn't trigger Fury since they fail the WS roll. How do they all do? Mia takes 9-5=4 Wounds, losing 2/3 of her HP. She's in serious danger, but she's still up. She also had pretty good odds of taking 0 wounds, thanks to leather (would've protected her from anything below a 6) and her natural toughness. Gal takes 7 Wounds and an immediate Critical Hit, +2 Severity. He rolls poorly and takes a Critical 9 hit to his body, falling unconscious and bleeding 1 Wound a turn until he gets help; he's basically down, dying, and cursing the low Fate total of elves. Thrunbor takes the hit and...takes no damage. And keep in mind these are all out-of-the-gate possible 0 EXP PCs. Thrunbor is not some super-leveled shitkicker (though he is assuming some damn good rolling).
The lower number of wounds, the higher chance people fury, and the extreme potential variance/outliers in player damage and toughness (A character in 2e is very, very unlikely to have TB 7 for a long time, if ever) makes for much swinger combat, with much higher chances of someone either walking through everything unhurt or dying immediately. I think making outliers in S and T much less likely and more tightly controlling their advance was one of the really important and good ideas in 2e compared to 1e. Similar for making armor a bigger part of the equation and adding a higher variance in the damage die; it's much, much harder to outrun the possibilities on the 2e damage die unless you're talking Chaos Lords, Vampire Lords, or characters with significant runic equipment. Who are all big outliers on the system. An 'average' experienced human in plate (like a Chaos Warrior) has DR 9 or 10; Strength 3 attacks can still hurt that character even without Fury. The larger number of Wounds on PCs also gives you a little more 'give', since every point of damage is no longer quite as significant. At the same time, Wound advances in 1e are much more significant than in 2e; the +8 Wounds on a high level fighter probably more than doubled their starting wounds, while +8 Wounds on the same character in 2e still makes them noticeably more difficult to drop but isn't as significant relative to where they started.
In general, combat fits with the swingier nature of 1e. A lot of the bones are the same, and I find rules like Winning kind of charming, actually. There are naturally lots more rules about various situational actions, but it's also notable that 1e is not that concerned with modifiers; you won't see nearly as many moving parts to track as you'd get in something like 4e. The chart of situational modifiers only has 6 entries, 3 bonuses, 3 penalties, and none are above the -20 for fighting unarmed (which was dropped in 2e, as they decided the lower damage was penalty enough). The hit location stuff in all the Warhammers has always been odd, mostly because it isn't that important unless someone is only partially armored. Crits to the legs are every bit as lethal/crippling as crits to the head, they just have different flavor. It's always slowed down combat and I'm never sure it's ever been really worth it, either.
Still, 1e's combat engine is functional, and you're clearly intended to get into plenty of exciting debates of the sword and axe. It just reflects that fact that compared to WHFRP 2e, 1e continues to have no breaks and to really show off just how insane the gulfs in ability between characters can be.
Next Time: Wizards are not to be trusted
The Mystery of Druids
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Edition
Post 6, The Mystery of Druids
I could go into trying to summarize how magic works in WHFRP 1e. I really could. I've been dreading getting to this part because even reading the damn rules for it is a headache. But you know, I'm not interested in trying to transcribe enough to summarize things a bit and you're not really interested in reading it, let's be honest. The big thing you need to know is that magic in 1st edition is extremely bog-standard basic high fantasy magic. Magic is also very character resource intensive, requiring you to go through a gating Basic Career to start climbing up a series of Careers 1-4, labeled helpfully 'Wizard Level 1' or 'Wizard Level 3' or 'Alchemist Level 4'. They're normal careers, and they bring to mind the later career tiering and career track stuff in later games in the series. Where they differ is that entering new Wizard/Priest/Whatever careers costs a ton of extra EXP. You have to spend heavily to switch between careers, specialties, and climb up levels. Magic relies on a complicated system of MP that is completely unrecognizable to later games in the line. There do not, from what I can tell, seem to be miscasts or casting tests; you just slam the MP down (and expend an Ingredient; material components were required, rather than being boosters), declare you're casting, and pray you don't get walloped in the middle of your spell because you now count as Prone and not defending yourself (for the entire round, it seems!), meaning you not only get automatically hit by melee attacks but they do double damage, which also cancels your spell (but costs the MP) if you were hit while still casting.
Do not cast spells unless you are behind your buddies. You will die from trying to put up the magic fingers, which in no way stop some barbarian wretch with mighty thews from cleaving you stem to stern.
The really important part is that the Winds of Magic, all the fluff and flavor and Lores and stuff that made magic flavorful and cool in Warhams? None of it's here. Magic is just generic high fantasy magic, mostly the same as D&D. It's a specialized and powerful tool, sure, but it's boring. Not only is it boring, its much too complicated and deals with a bunch of big subsystems that only deal with magic. The magic system is absolutely the weakest mechanical system in 1st edition that I've seen, and according to the author's notes in 2e, it was apparently meant to be a temporary stopgap system that would get expanded and filled out into something less dull but then ended up surviving all of 1st edition's tenure. 2e's magic system might have its own issues (especially with a few of the Lores being really underpowered) but at least 2e made playing a wizard flavorful and interesting. You didn't just have a generic 'Battle Magic' spell list and then maybe go into Elementalist to get a generic Battle Magic: Elementalist list as well.
The lack of any and all of the magic fluff that made magic fun is really draining when you read this section. For the most part, Warhammer really isn't that much like D&D; it's got a lot of fantasy cliches but it usually does something with them. It's concerned with different things than D&D, and generally has a stronger sense of grounding or of placing characters in the context of their society and their world. Here? 1e's magic is D&D magic. It's a thing where powerful wizard dudes wave their hands and stuff just happens. There's no real limitation on what it can do besides it being a general RPG spell list full of combat spells (there's a reason it's defined as Battle Magic as its default) and there's no theme to it. It's really complicated, not very good, and completely lacking in the stuff that makes magic interesting to play with in later entries.
What's more interesting is that you can see from day 1 Magic Items were something of an issue for WHFRP. 1e actually expects you to get them; a GM is told to make sure finding one is a big event but that players shouldn't be allowed to 'despair of getting one' during their career. There's a much wider selection of magic items, though I also recognize many of these as being converted into items you could find based on Realms of Sorcery in 2e. What's notable is that magic items can be generated very randomly, and can vary enormously in power. For instance, a Shield +3 is +4 AV on every location against attacks from the front. Your chances of rolling such a mighty item on the random tables are very low, yes. But it's possible. Most items are fairly minor edges, but even minor edges are potentially a big deal in Hams. Hams has never really sat down and looked at how to include magic items without them either being vanishingly rare or surprisingly unbalancing. I suspect this is a big reason 2e just kinda went 'most PCs will never use any' and moved on from there.
Another interesting thing: Most of the Chaos Weapon table in Tome of Corruption in 2e actually consists of conversions and re-imaginings of the enormous number of weapon effects you can roll for a magic weapon in 1e. There's a lot of wild shit your magic sword could do. You also need a WP test to 'master' a magic weapon when you first get it or it won't turn on for you.
What really stands out is how, in a game where I can recognize a lot of the flavor and style (or the outlines of them, at least) from the later editions and setting? There's absolutely none of it in magic. Not in magic items, not in spells, not in the way magic works in the setting. It's curious that this is one of the places where things seem to have changed the most, and the most fundamentally, between the early history of Hams and later works. I'm genuinely curious what sparked the changes and why, but I'm also very glad they happened; if magic had stayed how it was in 1e the entire setting (not to mention the game mechanics) would have been much poorer for it.
Next Time: Old Old World Religion
The Old Old World Gods
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Edition
Post 7: The Old Old World Gods
The Gods are as the Gods are. Much of what makes Warhams religion fun to play with was already there from 1st edition; it's interesting to see how stable the cast of Gods and Goddesses is in both concept and flavor outside of Sigmar suddenly becoming increasingly important. Rhya is also less important in 1e, more important in 2e, and then made a fully separate cult with her own specific stuff in 4e, so she's one of the ones that changes the most; the original Rhya was explicitly the Goddess of the Old Faith. The original idea was to have Old Faith animistic druids running about as a PC type, who still worshiped the original form of Rhya, the spirits, and sacred places, while Clerics represented the more modernized pantheon of divinities. Which also makes for the amusing conclusion that Taal is kind of a sellout in 1e, since he's become a normal structured deity (albeit the deity of things beyond human structure) while she's mostly still followed as an abstract manifestation of the earth.
What's surprising is how much the Gods are similar to how they are in later editions. Since I went through the trouble of covering the entire Tome of Salvation, I don't think it's really necessary to go back and repeat everything about the Gods. It's a good cast of Gods! There's a reason they've stuck around. The other important thing to note is that the 'actually polytheistic' element was around from the beginning, too; the people of the Old World believe that denying the divinity of a God is one of the dumbest things you could do. The Gods are certainly real, and just because you follow one doesn't mean you spit on or deny the others; priests are still specialists who know the important rites and rituals necessary to bring about divine favor and keep the forces of the world working properly. Interestingly, this extends to 'evil' Gods; you certainly don't worship Chaos Gods or Khaine or whatever, but you do not deny their divinity or disrespect them openly. A God might be outlawed, but they're still a God and still due some level of respect for their power, even if that respect takes the form of urgency in trying to stop their designs.
In general, a God gets outlawed if their worship absolutely requires 'heavy anti-social elements', to quote the book. Things like regular human sacrifice. So Khaine is right out, but he's not as bad as Khorne. While Khaine is the God of Murder and wants his followers to commit murders, this is a little different than 'I want my followers to destroy the world and all life and beauty that exists within it', so Khaine doesn't get persecuted nearly as heavily as followers of the Chaos Gods. Once again: Chaos is not necessarily bad in 1st edition, but the Chaos Gods definitely
are and represent the most destructive and evil aspects of Chaos. Similarly, 1st edition had Law Gods, though they don't get much play besides Solkan. Solkan is the God of Vengeance, and the God of bigotry and intolerance by extension. He's the guy who gets really excited when he talks about how you need capital punishment so people will 'know their place'. He's also the original patron of the Witch Hunters; they were kind of intended to be crazy Law cultists to serve as villains and hindrances to PCs in counterpart to the Chaos cults they fight, given their class entry talks about how if they aren't given official power to kill and terrorize as they wish they form secret cabals and cults to Law to try to take over the government and grant themselves secret police status.
An awful lot of Solkan's deal seems to have gotten rolled into Sigmar in later works, after the Law Gods were dropped from the setting. The negative or troubling aspects of Sigmarism seem to have their origins with the God of Bigotry and Vengeance. Which also makes it weird that the later fluff for Fantasy in the wargames and stuff tended to go hard into 'Actually Sigmar is the only important God' stuff, considering. As for Siggy himself, the Heldenhammer is a minor regional God who is more important as the patron of the Imperial family and government. More like an Imperial Cult than one of the larger major religions, with its power placed more in the fact that his priests are highly placed in the Imperial government rather than on divine miracles or acts of magic. He doesn't get a spell list and is thus not especially playable in the core book.
Lots of the bones of the later mechanics of religion exist here, too. You get extra skill access based on your cult, you have to follow Strictures or you'll gain divine disfavor, etc. There's a complex and mostly meaningless set of rules for praying for outright miraculous interventions that boil down to '1-5% chance if your GM feels like it' so eh. Cults define which of the generic spell lists you can use; for instance, Myrmidians can use all of the basic Battle Magic spells just like a non-specialized Wizard, while Taalites have Elementalism. Shallya gets a specific spell for curing anything short of outright losing a limb or getting murdered; the Shallyan schtick of 'heals status effects, especially insanely annoying and long-term ones' in 4e is a throwback to 1e as well. Though the 1e Shallyans could still heal base HP quite well, if not quite as well as 2e ones. She's a bit unique in getting her own unique spells, but they're there to make up for the fact that a Shallyan is disallowed from wearing armor, can only use a staff, and has no offensive magic unlike all the other Clerics. Also the only good way to cure Insanity; 1e had similar terrible Insanity rules to 2e.
Druidic religion also gets detailed, as opposed to the nebulous references to an 'Old Faith' that is no longer practiced in 2e. They don't worship specific deities; The Mother is as close as they come, and even that is a representation of fertility and life rather than an incarnate goddess. They follow the sacred and magical places of the world, tend to them, and generally try to keep the universe from ending. They're buddies with elves (sometimes they are elves) and elves and Rangers can do the same stuff Druids can in finding sacred sites and magic wells of power. There isn't a lot of detail on their thing, but there's more than there is in later editions, since this is the only one that treats them as an existing faith rather than something that existed in prehistory.
Much like all Hams RP, there isn't nearly as much on non-human Gods. I'm not entirely certain why Hams RP in general is so thoroughly focused on the humans; I really would have liked more material on Dwarfs, Elfs, and even Halflings (and Ogres.) You only get a small smattering of non-human Gods: Esmerelda the Halfling Goddess, Liadriel the Elf God of Song and Wine (who is explicitly genderfluid, as well), and Grungi, chief God of dorfs. The whole thing about other species seeing their gods very differently doesn't really come up in the 1e core, and I'd imagine it's a later addition to the line. Other species use divine magic the same way as humans do (though like all magic, Dwarfs and Halflings are half as good at it; by the way, Dwarrfs and Halflings could use magic but were shitty at it), because there's no real differentiation between Divine and Arcane magic in 1e. Grungi is as he always was, Liadriel is a fairly generic happy forest deity, but Esmerelda used to be a bigger deal in 1e. Also her sacred rites are basically cooking competitions and one of her strictures is to feed the hungry wherever you can, because the thought of letting people starve to death is anathema. Halfling priests considering it their sacred duty to feed the poor adds a nice extra touch to their characteristic gluttony by making it something they wish everyone could share in, I think.
We also get a little on the Chaos Gods: Khorne and Nurgle are as they always are, but Malal is new. He is the Lord of
Getting Caught Up In Copyright Issues And Quietly Dropped From The Setting
Chaos against Chaos, the God of Destruction who seeks to ensure Chaos itself doesn't get too comfortable being what it is and does that by murdering other Chaos. The other Law Gods besides Solkan are a lady Law Goddess named Arianka who gets no description of what she does, and Aluminas, the God of Light. Aluminas is just the God of Light. Not Light as like, a concept of goodness or enlightenment of illumination. No, he's just a big ole glowing ball of Light, who likes Light. All kinds of Light, really. Ultraviolet, visible, whatever. Nobody actually worships him because they like their retinas intact, I guess. Arianka's description is about how she's held under glass in Praag (Hey, it's the Woman in Glass from the opera!) and can be freed if someone finds the keys to do so, but, uh, there's nothing about what she actually does and the Law Gods are mostly presented as dicks so I'm not entirely sure releasing mysterious deities without any idea what they'll do is a good idea in Hams town.
And that's mostly it for religion. A lot of the stuff that makes Hams religion fun was already there from the beginning, which is a nice surprise. I'd be really curious to know what, exactly, sparked them to get rid of the Law Gods (though I think it was a good idea, because it reframes the conflict with Chaos as something the world itself does rather than making it a fight between two cosmic evils) and what caused the creation and addition of Slaanesh and Tzeentch later on. Given how important cult-hunting and mystery became to WHFRP, Slaanesh and Tzeentch being the two 'really good at making hidden cults' Gods and them being absent in the original version of the game is interesting to me.
Next Time: GMing
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Edition
Post 8: Gamemastering
The GM section contains most of the nuts and bolts of the game system, including the very detailed rules for traps, line of sight, fire, etc. I should also note 'setting stuff on fire' has a full half page of rules devoted to how to set things on fire, what can be set on fire, how players might improvise incendiaries, and how to put yourself out. The people writing this understand this aspect of player characters, at least; they're always trying to set things on fire. Coincidentally, setting your enemies on fire is quite effective since only AV, not TB, applies to flames. And you take 2d4 damage a round while on fire and need to reduce it to 0 to actually go out, with allies helping you try to beat out the flames giving an extra 1 DR each (+1 for you spending your turn trying to do so). Do not be on fire. It is very distracting.
Curiously this is true in 2e, as well, where you took d10 wounds with no AV OR TB while on fire. 4e's fire is even more dangerous, since Being On Fire can stack and the more stacks of On Fire you're suffering the worse everything gets. At no point in Fantasy was being on fire ever something to take lightly. Compare to WH40KRP, where it was quite possible to become immune to being on fire, since you reduced fire damage by TB. Self-immolating Space Marine/Techpriest/Ork was a common joke special effect.
Anyway, I digress: What's important isn't the specific rules for setting stuff on fire, but rather that they're a good indicator of what a lot of the mechanical meat of the GMing chapter is like. It's tons and tons of subsystems. You remember Rik'tikk's stuff about exactly which substances are most lethal to each species during the Old World Bestiary? Yeah, that's almost certainly a reference to the Poison subsystem, which includes specific toxins that are specifically lethal to specific species. Interestingly, poison is actually less lethal because of the level of detail at play here; it takes multiple 'doses' to kill you, usually. And you save against each dose, suffering effects based on how much you saved by. You also get a specific roll based on the average of your Intelligence and a chance to notice poison to realize your meal is poisoned. This is interesting because it makes it much more likely you'll suffer some sort of effect compared to 2e's simpler 'one save' poisoning, but also much less likely to actually die outright. And even in 2e, you saved against poison, then suffered the effects, which usually had enough of a lead time where you realized you were poisoned for someone to use Heal or (if you had our heroic friend the 3rd Tier Shallyan, hardest working lady in Warhams) cast a spell or use an Antitoxin kit to let you reroll your save (which you also probably used Fortune on in the first place), so it still sort of worked out to a similar number of chances to not die.
What I'm getting at here is all of these detailed subsystems at least relate to things that are likely to come up in play, even if they're overly complicated compared to later editions. This is the general mechanical theme of 1e: It's very concerned with playing out and having subsystems for almost every dramatic occurrence. Which makes the game complicated, but at the same time, multiple chances for a player to survive an event like 'assassins slip poison into your wine' does add something to the game and is definitely going to come up in a game featuring murder and intrigue. The large number of subsystems also gives them space to make the huge range of Skills matter to adventuring; knowing how to cook is more useful when it also comes with knowledge of how to detect and cover up the taste of poison! While I prefer the simpler system in 2e, at least 1e usually does something with its complexity.
Insanity is exactly as terrible as it is in 2e, and for the same reasons. Insanity systems are usually pretty offensive treatments of mental health issues, but on top of that, it's also basically 'retire your PC, unless you know our hardworking friend the Shallyan' since most of the effects are very crippling. Some are actually beneficial, though; you can end up Fearless from going crazy. This is actually the only way to get Fearless in 1e! It isn't a Talent/Skill yet. Similarly, Fear and Terror work exactly like in 2e. Fear in 1e and 2e is notably less dangerous to you than in 4e, since it just slows you down or takes up turns until you overcome it.
GMing also includes lots on random encounters, dungeon crawling, and how to construct scenarios. It also advises the GM to be stingy with Fate Points, but to remember a Fate Point is a guarantee of survival. When a PC spends one, they get out of whatever happened to them, and they get out of it alive. Plenty of stories have twists where the hero tumbles over a ledge after losing a battle with their rival only to wash up at a friendly village, barely alive, after all. Your PCs should get the same benefits, until they run out of 'cheat death' points. Interestingly, this is all
Fate does in 1e. Fortune Points for rerolls, extra actions, etc don't come about until 2e, and I think they were one of its big improvements to the game because it gives you a nice extra set of decisions to make and resources to manage. Even as simple death-protection, though, Fate Points are a simple and easy way to let players lose without ending the game and I appreciate them for that.
Similarly, GMing has a ton on character advancement, because with Fate, you're kind of intended to have a decent chance to survive and move up. You might die quickly, like our buddy the T2 unarmored elf with very few Fate, but you also had pretty good odds of making it. What really stands out to me is that RAW, you are expected to shoot up like a rocket in power compared to 2e or 4e. First, every Advance is +10 in a stat (or +1 Wounds, Attacks, Str, Tough, or Movement) or a Skill. All Advances are still 100 EXP. You are, however, expected to earn about 100-300 EXP a session, depending on how much you accomplish. Maybe more if it's especially long or important. Compare that to the general 100 per session in 2e, and then note that 2e awards half as many stat points per advance bought. You also had more options for jumping your Career track; namely, any Basic Career that you could have started on in your general 'class' of Careers is available to you as an exit. Also, you didn't actually have to finish your current Career unless you were a spellcaster or the GM said you did. So it was entirely possible to roll something shitty like Servant, but then because you were a Warrior, spend your first 100 earned EXP to exit right into Squire or something to reflect how you'd moved on in your life.
Heck, the example character is a Prospector who uses her first 100 EXP to buy straight into Scout instead of staying in Prospector. The idea is that she was a miner and prospector, yeah, but now she's an Adventurer and buys into an adventuring career that's on her exits. 1e is much heavier on the idea that you're exactly and professionally doing what your Career says on the tin than 2e, which still contains a fair bit of that. 4e is even heavier on it, since it ties directly to its income and status rules, and I'd say it's another example of 4e looking back to 1e.
One of the reasons this is all interesting is the designers of 2e specifically talk about why they slowed advancement and made you need to finish careers to promote. The issue was that (especially combined with a paucity of long-term career tracks outside of these two) almost all PCs who survived would become Warriors or Wizards. Or both, if they made it that far. And when you're potentially advancing this quickly...well. Also notable: Neither 1e nor 4e actually require you to have all your trappings to promote; they just suggest you find the new trappings for your new career ASAP. This seems to have been another attempt to slow down promotions, or potentially to guide adventures towards making sure players get the stuff they need (2e does tell you to structure adventures and quests to help people get the gear their intended new careers will require) but given the 'players never get paid' brain spiders that afflict 2e adventure design, I much prefer the 'trappings for promoted careers are guidelines of what kind of gear you want' design over 'you must have them to promote'.
Similarly, I actually like the 'career class' idea in 1e, specifically the way you can do an equivalent of the '200 out into another Basic' but for any Basic of your general type. I also think the 4 classes being directly related to adventuring works better than 4e introducing extra 'career classes'. Adding in Peasant, Burgher, Courtier, and Riverfolk as specific Classes with a bunch of Careers under them really just dilutes this concept. So yes, this is a place where I actually like what 1e's doing better than either of the future versions.
The other interesting bit about GMing is that the GMing advice is mostly quite good, and especially good for being written 33 years ago. The GMing advice tells you to keep in mind that for all the mud and weirdness, this is still a heroic fantasy story and the players are still the main characters. Your job as the GM isn't to 'win' by killing them, it's to create interesting situations and challenges that make them make plans and use resources. Killing players too often will, as they say, lose you your gaming group. Especially if it's seen to be arbitrary. There's a lot of focus on the goal of the game being gaining power and money, but that's fairly normal for the time. And really, most WHFRP PCs do want to go up in stats and advance in their Careers, and almost all of them care about money, so it's hardly out of line with the stories you'll generally be doing with this game anyway.
In general, it actually advises cheating your rolls a little to save the players. Especially if they actually did come up with a cool plan that would make for a good story and then beefed the roll at the exact wrong moment. Now I'm of two minds about this sort of thing; on one hand, yes, it's fine, on the other, it may be a sign the lethality of your game is a bit overtuned if you expect to need to save players from the dice often. I admit, I'm not a particularly harsh GM and I generally prefer stable casts; I've not had many player deaths in my campaigns, though I do see Fate burning from time to time. But that comes from balancing scenarios that way and doing things like interpreting the wording of Fury in 2e to be player-facing. If you're regularly having to toss dice rolls to save players, your dice might be too swingy on the bits aimed at the players. 2e is generally better about material not being able to one-shot you, outside of anything by Robert Schwalb, who seems to find save or dies some kind of tremendous thrill, which makes avoiding these sorts of situations easier.
Seriously, Tome of Corruption is a huge outlier on that.
Still, WHFRP 1e is not a book I expected to include 'Look, your players really want to be heroes, not just lowlives. Cut them a break sometimes, because you'll also discourage them taking risks and moving the plot along if they're pessimistic and feeling down.' That's not only good advice, it's a good explanation for why it's good advice; players who think they have a fair chance are players who come up with risky but interesting plans and adventures. Balance makes people take risks and drive stories in this kind of game, and that's a good reason to care about it! It also emphasizes over and over that the GM 'wins' when everyone has a good time playing. Good play is consistently equated to play that makes the table enjoy the game. Actual honest to god 'adversarial GMing is pointless, you need to be seen as fair and working with your players' is fantastic to see in a 33 year old game.
I should also note that players mutating doesn't come up much in the core book and the only corruption system I can find applies to evil wizards and demonologists. At least in the core book, this doesn't seem to have been a major concern yet. I'm certain it got added in supplements, but it wasn't here day 1. Which is notable because of how much mutation and corruption ends up doing in later games in the line. The closest to it is that Demonologists lose Toughness when summoning demons, which they offset with drugs, but when they hit 0 Toughness they can no longer survive without the intervention of dark powers and thus become an NPC in thrall to the evil bargains they made. Given you have to choose to be that kind of wizard, this is not something that's going to happen to you at random.
So yeah, there's the GM's side of the game's mechanical meat: A bunch of subsystems for lots of things that will happen to adventurers, that at least have some mechanical room for interesting things to occur, coupled with surprisingly fast advancement rules and surprisingly good GMing advice. Really, on the whole it's a decent GM's section, especially for its age.
Next Time: The Old Old World
The old World, but not yet the Old World
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 1st Edition
Post 9: The old World, but not yet the Old World
So what was the original setting like back in the day? You're cautioned to make sure your players are only 'really' aware of the Empire and the Old World at the start of play, but there's a lot more focus on the idea that they might go to other places. Someday, someone may publish actual books about those places; you'd think in 33 years of this gameline existing there'd be a damn elf book or something, or an actual official book about going to Lustria or Khemri, but it seems we're doomed to always stick to the Empire and its neighbors for the most part so far.
Anyway, originally the world beyond not-Europe was called the Known World. There never seems to have been an actual name for the world Warhams takes place on. They just call it the World. Hilariously, the 'World Guide' here is both more useful and more extensive than the shitty travel packet in the Warhammer Companion in 2e; you still don't get enough on places like Albion or Araby to do that much with them, but you likewise don't get a ton on the Empire since the entire setting was 3 years old when this book was written. Originally, the Old World was more medieval than early modern; the RPG seems to have been one of the forces pushing the Empire more into first the Renaissance, then the 30 years war HRE But With Wizards we all know and love. Hell, originally Bretonnia
was the highly advanced but decadent elder state. That's right, they were originally just-pre-revolutionary France, with the Nobles happily backing an absolutist monarch and crushing their unfortunate peasants and signs of rebellion and revolution brewing. Yep, none of the knightly crossdressing and ridiculous hellforest fairy tales from later editions: They were 18th century France, not 14th Century But Also Arthurian France.
I am biased by how much I adore Bretonnia, but I think the weird medieval stasis Bretonnia next to a more advanced Empire was a good change.
Estalia and Tilea were much as they are: Mostly footnotes, with the book talking about how they're far from the North and thus far from Chaos, and free to focus on it much less. Interestingly, at this stage, Norsca wasn't depicted as a place partially in thrall to Chaos but rather as the front line in resisting it. The Norsemen and dwarfs were the people closest to the places where Chaos rules everything, and were portrayed as heroic and indomitable allies in the last big Chaos war. Old Worlders still looked down on the Norse, but they also needed them, same as the Kislevites. This is one of those places where I think both versions are good; the Norse being partially in thrall to Chaos but partly independent of it and a very complex and unpredictable people is good in the later works. But the idea of the Norse as the front line and Norsca as a place your Adventurers can go to actually see open military conflict against Chaos at any time is also an appealing bit of setting for an RPG. Kislev was exactly as it is in later works: Ethnic tensions and political maneuvering, with a lid on them because everyone knows they need to work together against the 8 foot murder-machines from the far north. Which is fine; it works great as it is.
Araby was different in 1st edition; 2e and 4e will make note of Araby as being about as advanced as the Empire, just far to the south. 1e takes the time to point them out as inferiors dominated by religious fundamentalism. Yeah...
Cathay gets mention in 1e, but it's mostly 'it's so damn big and there are so many places in the far east that it's impossible to generalize', which is fair enough. I'd be a lot happier if they didn't call it 'oriental'. Still, shrugging and going 'Man, Asia is super big and there are a ton of different peoples that live there, can't make one blanket statement about them' isn't the worst I've ever seen (especially if you're only doing one paragraph on the continent), and it's certainly better than the material on the Hung and other stuff about them in later editions. I'm always at once a little sad Warhams never did anything with its Asia, but also a little glad considering the general quality of what we did get about the place that they didn't try to focus on it more as I'm not sure I'd have trusted GW with it.
Oh, yeah, and Lustria mentions the infamous pygmies. Yeah, just...no. The Warhammer Pygmies were literal little sambo stereotypes, as you might expect from British nerds in the 80s, and were absolutely awful and a shame to everyone involved in making them. It also mentions the Amazons, who used to have laser cannons. No, really, that was their thing: Mysterious sci-fi-primitive women who live in Lustria and have mohawks and the occasional royal rocket launcher. Lustria was also home to the Slaan, who were originally just the Old Ones themselves; it's a later addition that the Slaan were the surviving servant-race of a more mysterious and more powerful people. Originally, the Slaan were just the trapped descendants of the space-faring and extremely powerful Old Slaan. The whole 'world was engineered by powerful magitek aliens' thing was much more front and center at this point, rather than being relegated to ancient history and reading between the lines.
There's a lot more mention of actual colonies in the New World. Also, the Dark Elves were originally straight up Chaos Elves (who were described as 'jealous of humanity', partly because Chaos paids humans more mind) who were mostly losing their civil war. The East Coast of the not-US was actually colonized by both humans and Sea Elves at this point. Oh, yeah, also used to be 4 kinds of elf: Dark, Sea, High, and Wood. Dark were dicks, Sea were elves from the actual elf kingdoms who had to work for a living and thus couldn't afford to be such insufferable dicks, High Elves were originally upper class twits who disdained all labor, and Wood Elves were originally much more like the Laurelorn Elves of later editions. They were the ones who actually had to live and work with humans, so they couldn't be as high and mighty and tended to be down to earth and friendly, comparatively. Other elves all looked down on them for not being dicks and for having hick accents. That's right there in the book.
Still, there was a lot more material suggesting you'd actually go to the New World, or the Chaos Wastes, or other crazy places back in this 1st edition. The idea seems to have been you'd start play in the Old World, have adventures in familiar settings, then eventually set off to a city of gold in Warhams South America or something equally foolish and rewarding.
Next Time: Ancient Aliens
Space Wizard Frog
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Edition
Post 10: Space Wizard Frog
Probably the oddest change between the stuff I'm familiar with and the history presented in 1e is that it starts with magic space frogs. In the original space frog history, the ancestors of the various species of Hams Land were originally confined to the equatorial zones and unable to live anywhere else because the planet was a frozen iceball. However, this particular little icey planet attracted the attention of mighty interstellar space frogs; originally the Slaan were just the Old Ones, rather than servants of the Old Ones. They're described as powerful scientists who had reached a point where magic and technology were indistinguishable to them, who came to this planet and built a great city in the western continent. They began to tinker with the genes of the creatures that lived in the equatorial zones, and then decided to make the planet more livable by moving it into a new orbit; that bit of fluff's always been there. They then settled in for a long period of observation and meddling, punctuated by grabbing the early elves and teleporting all of them to a hand-crafted paradise habitat island. Yeah, that's why the elfs originally had it so easy: The Space Frogs liked them and made them a really nice terrarium. That's consistent across all editions.
Meanwhile, without any direct help from the mighty frogs, humans and dwarfs began to spread into the now-livable northern areas of the world. Dwarfs invented animal husbandry to tend to goats and began to build settled homes in the mountains. Humans were mostly irrelevant and minor bands of hunter gatherers. Meanwhile, the elves were chilling in their paradise and inventing reasons why this made them cooler than everyone else besides 'magic space frog put us here'. What the Slaan actually wanted will never be discovered; the possibilities given here are similar to the ones in Realm of Sorcery. Maybe the Slaan were breeding slaves or sacrifices. Maybe they were making children and helpmates. Maybe they were just fucking around with this planet because they'd existed for millions of years and were powerful space demigods, and running experiments on what happens if you mess around with the development of sentient species is just what you do once you're flying between worlds with enormous portal gates. Unfortunately for the Slaan stuck on this planet, someone poked a hole in the side of their warp tunnels. It's not clear if it was a localized industrial accident, an encounter with a very powerful warp entity that was able to overcome the wards forming the gate network, or if the same stuff happened anywhere besides this planet; Warhams has always only been interested in its unnamed individual world. Whatever happened, Chaos spilled in from the void and exploded the polar gates, which trapped any Slaan on-world in this planet and caused a crazy demon energy flood to hit the planet.
The Slaan were used to dealing with these kinds of entities at arms length, from a position of advantage where the void-creatures couldn't manifest in reality. Needless to say, demons being physically real kind of fucked up their normal protocols for placating and turning aside demons. Worse, it wasn't just Chaos; crazy magic Law showed up too and the two forces began to fight over the planet. Chaos's flood in the world also produced physical mutations and all sorts of unplanned, fantastical, and impossible life. Worse, it also made Beastmen. And Skaven. Skaven were positioned as the 'arch servants of Chaos' in 1e's core book, but otherwise actually map almost perfectly to their modern incarnations; they already had the Council of 13, the 4 Great Clans, etc etc. The Chaos Gods weren't set yet, and there was the implication there would be many Chaos Gods as they hadn't settled on the Big 4 yet, so the Horned Rat being one of many Chaos Gods wouldn't have been weird at the time.
Much like in later Fantasy, the Slaan tried to stem all this bullshit. However, considering they were basically a bunch of trapped engineers, scientists, and maybe colonists with no backup, this proved pretty hard to do. One of their great achievements was binding some of the mighty void entities in nicer ways, creating the Gods that would become everybody's pantheons. They're still out in the west, but 'under siege by the foul lizard creatures of the mountains'; it looks like Lizardmen started out as another enemy species rather than the servitors/biological automatons we know and love from later Warhams. The Elves stayed loyal to the Slaan because they were the most 'finished' of the species. Some of them went Chaos and that's how they got Dark Elves, but most avoided significant mutation or change. Dwarfs had a rougher time because the Slaan hadn't worked on them as much and they weren't finished. Humans...well, humans were still in the prototyping phase. Nothing was actually done on the humans yet; they were mostly unmodified by the Slaan. So their first exposure to weird magic was Chaos. This was good and bad; humans have profited from being agents of change and from being the people least likely to get mired in 'we do it this way because we always did'. At the same time, tentacle o' clock is a bad time for everybody and humans have a propensity to form forbidden sinister cults, to either Law or Chaos, unmatched by any other species.
There's actually no mention of what caused the Grudge War in this version of the history, but it still happens 5000 years before the present and still destroys the Elf colonies on the Old World. The Elf Civil War is a settled matter in this version; no Morathi and Malekith running around ruling over an active conflict with the High Elves. The Dark Elves lost badly and got punted off the Elf Paradise Island and now they live in the shittier parts of America and grumble about how annoyed they are that Chaos notices humans more than them. Also, the Wood Elfs are still the elfs that refused to leave when the other elfs got kicked in the teeth, though there's no hellforest full of insane hillbilly ninjas in this version; Woodsy Elfs are all meant to be the decent, worldly elves who make for good PCs.
Interestingly, too, in the original version of history? Chaos caused the eruptions and earthquakes that kicked the dwarfs' butts. Not a fat frog deciding continental drift was bullshit. The evil bits of Chaos saw an opportunity in how the dwarfs and elfs had had a falling out and decided this was time to put the boot in.
With the dwarfs needing a new buddy due to all their stuff being on fire and the elfs no longer returning their calls on account of that apocalyptic war they'd had, they looked to the humans. The humans might have been less technologically able than the dwarfs, but there were a lot of them, they hated the goblins and orcs too (no, there's never anything on where those guys came from, and I like it that way), and they were reasonable enough to trade with. Toss a human king some actual steel weapons and armor for him and his bondsmen, and they'd happily help a dwarf hold out. Sigmar still happened in the same time frame and in roughly the same way, which proved to the dwarfs that being buddies with humans was a good plan that was going to work long term. So the dwarfs and the humans were friends in roughly the same way, for roughly the same reasons, even back in the beginning of the setting.
No-one really knows where halflings came from in all this, but the theory is that they're the last creation of the Slaan. A creature immune to the influence of Chaos. Same as in later works. Halflings being immune to mutation is a really important part of halflings and I'm always kind of annoyed to see that 4e merely made them very resistant to physical mutation (while handing actual immunity to elfs. Really?) while making all the physical-resistant people still suffer serious mental mutations. The entire point of halflings, the entire joke, is that they're tiny and sort of irrelevant but that they're what it takes to actually be genuinely immune to the insidious and setting-wide great evil that dominates the setting's plot, dangit.
Also that they're straight Tolkien halflings, but written with less worship of the life of the English Country Gentry as the pinnacle of civilization and more gentle mockery.
The original history ends with an assurance that eventually, the Gates are going to overcome all life and turn everything into ruined protoplasm and that Chaos itself will lose by winning. How long this is going to take is uncertain; Law fights against it, because Law likes existence even if it wants to stagnate all existence, and the existing creatures of the world also aren't keen on turning into goo. Could be dozens of millennia, could be next Tuesday. It's an interesting bit that Law was originally going to be so important to the setting, because it feels so vestigial even here; Law is sort of on your side, but sort of not, and it's bad but it's not and it's all sort of a confused mess. Given how much more often PCs would end up fighting Chaos rather than dealing with Law, and how Law never really sounded like it would work great for power metal wargaming armies, I can see why it got dropped. Plus, having Neutral Gods of man plus evil Law Gods plus Chaos Gods ends up risking turning things into God o' Clock instead of focusing enough on the people of the setting, and the focus on the people is one of the big things Hams has going for it.
Also not too fond of the focus on genetic corruption; in this early stuff you don't find any of 2e and other later materials' stuff about how mutation isn't a sentence to the destruction of the soul. Mutants are just gribbly evil guys who serve Chaos here, even though you already get material about how the Witch Hunters and crazy 'kill everyone and let the Law Gods sort them out' types are bad guys or obstacles.
Still, it's really interesting how front and center
the Sci-Fantasy elements were in this version, and how many of the major events of the setting are already present even if they go somewhat differently. Another interesting bit is that the Chaos Dwarfs are a very new thing in this version of history, recently grabbed by Chaos as the objective of one of its incursions because it saw how well working with dwarfs was going for the humans and wanted its own dwarfs. That's using the noodle, unthinking forces of cosmic entropy.
Next Time: Old Old World Bestiary
Magic and Monsters
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Edition
Post 11: Magic and Monsters
One of the standout bits of the core book for 1e is how extensive the monster manual is. 2e's core has enough stuff to get a game started, but you really need/want Old World Bestiary for 2e (which is fine, as OWB is one of 2e's best sourcebooks anyway). But 1e? 1e's got as many or more monsters, enemies, etc as you get in 2e's monster manual right here in the core book, and that's genuinely good value for a core game. Which is another thing that stands out about 1st edition: It leaves room for splatbooks and extra work, and even promises such things are coming, but you can absolutely run the game with just the core book no problem. It's a very complete book: Gear, magic, character rules, a fairly thorough published adventure in the back, a full bestiary, enough setting and history information to get started, and it does all that in about 300 pages. This is definitely a point in its favor as a published product.
Another interesting thing for me is that the stats are by and large pretty similar to 2nd edition's enemies. 2e alters some stuff, but they're mostly based on the same tabletop game and the same tabletop monsters, and much of what 2e adds in is giving monsters more skills and talents and a few more standardized special rules to bring them more in line with PC-style statblocks. This is also a function of how 1e and 2e treat making 'elite' monsters: 2e gives you creature careers to add on top of a monster's statline (giving them as many or as few advances as you wish from the Career) while 1e has a couple 'hero' and 'champion' templates you overlay onto a monster to give it bonuses. In general, 2e reflects the style of its time (remember it began work in 2002) where there was a general push to have monsters and PCs built from the same rules, and 2e was generally simple enough to make that actually work, unlike 3rd edition D&D, while 1e was happy to just give you a general stat-block for enemies and mostly leave them without skills otherwise. 1e also puts a lot of fluff in its monster entries, though it doesn't have the full range of fluff something like Old World Bestiary could.
Seriously, all the stuff about the various elf types? From the Bestiary section. Also, Beastmen were already sort of losers and jobbers for Chaos in 1e. 1e also had the Fimir, who were later removed because of their weird thing where they were giant lizard/turtle men who mostly raided to steal human women to breed with. Because one of 4e's general goals seems to be to put anything from 1e back into the game (with some work to update it), the Fimir are back in 4e but stripped of the weird 'they steal our women for sex and breeding!' nonsense and instead written as abductors and Chaos worshipers who kidnap anyone they can. Which is fine, because the rest of the Fimir fluff (they used to be favored of Chaos, but then it stopped taking their calls and now they consistently get tricked by demons who snicker and say sure, further my aims and I'll put you through to Slaanesh or whatever) is pretty fun once you strip out the creepy stuff.
Oh, also, Gnomes existed in 1e (and were again, brought back in 4e, for some reason). They seem to have been intended as the goblin to the dwarf's orc, so to speak. They're basically shitty dwarfs, being smaller, weaker, and even more surly. Seriously, their only description is basically 'dwarfs, but assholes and also shittier, and also dying out even faster and not at all important'. No wonder they were originally removed; they don't really do much besides kind of suck.
Giants were described as much more diverse compared to the sad alcoholics of later editions. They could be any alignment; good and wise giants existed. They also had really complex rules for falling over and falling on people if they were drunk. Ogres are as they have always been, obese but not actually evil despite their propensity for sometimes eating people after they win battles and prone to mercenary work. Instead of an attempted supersoldier against Chaos that never got finished, Ogres are just a stable mutant form of human. Orcs in 1e are described as a minor local issue; something that used to be a problem in the old days but that lacks the technology or organization to present a serious threat to the existence of human civilization.
Humans being divided into Norsemen, Old Worlders, Arabians, Steppe Nomads, and Orientals
is a bit of a sign of the times, though they all have the same stats. Southeast Asia in Hams World is described as 'populated by stone age headhunting barbarians' while Nippon and Cathay are 'ordered civilizations', which is a little oh dear. Arabians are the Ottoman Empire. PCs are all assumed to be Old Worlders: Westerners. None of the stuff you get in later editions about how it's fine to play someone from Araby, etc. Have I mentioned this was written in the 80s.
Oh, and there used to be Half Orcs, and they were as terrible as Half Orcs always are, hated by everyone for being mixed race. They were 'originally kept as slaves' by human societies that have decided since they're not worth it since they're too dangerous, and some have decided they should just be exterminated instead. Yeah...I don't know how or why that trope became so pervasive in fantasy for awhile.
Our Strong Rat Sons the Skaven were already recognizable as modern Skaven. They're what happened to the rats that lived in the Old Slaan cities when everything exploded, and now the Strong Rat Sons are out to gnaw away the entire world while screaming and dying in droves. 4 Great Clan, Council of 13, GREAT HORNED RAT, all of it was already there in 1986.
Original Vampires had a massively annoying set of subsystems where they had to eat magic points from people by taking their blood and then spend magic points to be active. They were a hell of a lot harder to kill back in 1e, too. The vamp template was +30 to most things, +20 to all the mental and social stats, +3 to S and T, +3 to Attacks, and +15 Wounds, plus you had to take them out with magic weapons or their weaknesses to actually put them down. A vamp who was taken out with a magic weapon would go down, but wouldn't die; they could get back up if someone gave them blood. They also became immune to sun if they were dormant, though you could burn the body/behead them to finish them off. If left dormant too long, they would rot away and die like a normal corpse. It was wild. They also had all the weaknesses but all of them had all their strengths. Oh, and Chaos God symbols didn't do shit to them back in the old days.
Speaking of magic weapons, this is a good place to put this, since you actually needed magic weapons like in D&D to put down some monsters in the old days. 1e is, I think, the only of the percentile WHFRP games that actually expected PCs would get magic treasure in the course of most campaigns. They're in the core book, in detail, and the advice is to 'keep them rare enough that they elicit excitement, but not so rare that players despair of finding them'. So you were actually supposed to get them in 1e, as opposed to 2e saying 'It's insanely rare that anyone in the setting has more than 3 actual magic items' and 4e barely talks about them outside of temporary enchantments and spells. Also interesting is that most of the items in 2e are adaptations of the random magic weapon and item tables from 1e; the Chaos Weapon table contains adaptations of almost every weapon trait in 1e, for instance. Given magic armor can do stuff like give you 'armor +3' and thus give you +3 DR, or weapons can do things like double your damage, magic items can be as crazy as they've always been in Hams. They've always felt like they struggled to find a place to slot in, and 1e is no exception; considering that, I'm not that surprised later editions made them rarer and assumed PCs mostly wouldn't deal with them. Though I think that caused its own problems.
Almost every weird monster published in other sourcebooks in WHFRP2e is already in the 1e bestiary. Once you start getting to the big monsters, you encounter a genuinely interesting game design conceit: Like a lot of games of the age, monsters have attacks like 'claw, claw, bite' or whatever. In 1e, that's actually deployed to a useful effect: Those attacks have facing restrictions for the monster, and divide up its attacks to ensure it can't
focus all its many attacks on one PC at a time. So say you're fighting a Dragon, because you're apparently suicidal and want to take on something with DR 9, 59 Wounds, 6 attacks, Str 7, and that generally isn't even evil or hostile. The Dragon has 4 Stomps, a Tail Lash, and a Bite. Stomps can be made in any direction, the bite is front facing only, and the tail lash is only to the sides/rear. Some monsters have genuinely weak facings, because you're expected to surround them and you're intended to be using a battle map. The Dragon is so dangerous because they don't really have a 'weak' facing, but other monsters do, in an attempt to put a positioning element into fighting big boss monsters and to keep them from just picking one PC each turn and focus-firing them. It's a neat idea that really wasn't carried forward into 2e (which wanted to simplify things) or 4e (which instead uses these as the only source of multi-attacks for monsters, to let them fight parties).
Also interesting to me that even in 1e, the whole 'dragons are mostly decent and intelligent beings who will leave you alone unless you fuck with them' thing was already there. Though I personally enjoy the later addition of 'Also, moving the planet's orbit fucked them over and some of them are really
justifiably bitter about that'. I like Hams dragons, they're rare enough to be novel when they show up and they're usually fun.
Original flavor Chaos Warriors were still highly skilled, dangerous soldiers (though not as tough as later versions), described by their distinctive plate armor and their propensity for 'helmets that are often elaborate to the point of bordering on impractical'. Even when humankind falls to the powers of cosmic destruction, their desire for totally sweet hats remains.
In general, 1e has a wilder and wider variety of monsters and potential enemies because there was more of an urge to put every standard fantasy monster into the setting at the time. A lot of this stuff got moved out of the setting as things solidified in later years, and some new things got moved in; overall I think no-one really misses elementals or half orcs. Still, the very thorough and very complete bestiary is a great thing to have in a core book for a game. It's colorful, it's got lots of extra fluff, and it's got a few really unfortunate sections because it was written in the 80s. Still, on the whole, it's in keeping with the rest of the book: Surprisingly solid.
Next Time: Wrapping Up
Putting it to bed
Original SA post
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Edition
Post 12: Putting it to bed
WHFRP1e is an interesting starting point for the roleplaying aspect of the franchise. It genuinely surprised me to read through it, given its reputation; I was expecting a much less well-made system. Yeah, it's a mess, but I'll take a mess where each component of the mess is something that might actually come up. Especially when all of those components are used to give some credence to the central thing I've always felt distinguishes WHFRP: It's always been a game where the weird little flavor and backstory details of your character matter. So having stuff like a poisoning subsystem whereby your halfling ex-chef's old training helps him alert the party to danger? That's actually got a place, even if it does overcomplicate the game some. 1e is a good game for the time it's designed; I could take it to my group and run it out of the box and it would (at least by my reading) function. Though the magic system seems like complete trash.
One of the weirdest parts of reading WHFRP1e is how familiar and unfamiliar the setting feels in it. Most of the elements I like are already there; oppression and brutality don't really help, the nobility don't matter nearly as much as they think they do, the world is full of people exploring it and pondering how it works how it works. You've got the snooty privileged elves, next to the less asshole ones who have to work for a living. Humans and dwarfs are buddies. The world's species were originally created by space-faring colonists as a weird experiment or an attempt to make slaves and servants. But some really prominent stuff is missing; it's weird
to read about Warhams magic without the Winds of Magic. Chaos gets a lot of billing, but it's much less the supreme overriding antagonist and more a long-off thing that will someday make the world collapse under the weight of its own flaws and bad choices. The Dark Gods seem like they were originally going to be far more than just four; it sounds like the original intent was to have a big blank space for new Evil Gods rather than just settling on Slaanesh, Nurgle, Tzeentch, and Khorne. The whole Law thing just feels superfluous and I'm glad it eventually got stripped out, since it took more of the spotlight off of the way WHFRP tends to be grounded in the actual people living on their crazy planet for Chaos to have an evil opposite that also fights it.
One giant semi-faceless force of cosmic peril is enough, thank you.
It's also really goddamn weird to read about a non-knightly Bretonnia, but otherwise most of the nations of the Old World have their shape right off the bat in 1e. The Empire's a goddamn mess, Tilea and Estalia are as they ever are (and are still crying out for sourcebooks of their own some day, c'mon, Cubicle 7!), the Border Princes are still a land of people trying to catch falling knives, etc. Yeah, the Old World has always been 'Nation But With A Twist/Wizards' writing, but you know? That can work. Especially with the focus on how messy everything is. You never get the clean super-good fantasy kingdom in Hams; the good guys are coalitions of messy, squabbling political interests and social strife that make them feel more fun. It doesn't make them feel like they're all evil, just like it's a setting where 'we can't immediately send messages across the kingdom' or 'there's a ton of different legal jurisdictions at play here' might matter. Probably one of the reasons the setting moved so much towards urban and investigative adventures; they take advantage of the mess of politics, money, and competing privileges that make up Hams' countries.
The main issues I'd take with 1st edition lie in the way it doesn't really care about balance. I think 2e trying to clean up and balance the professions more carefully was an important step forward; the level of potential disparity between PCs in 1e is a little more than I feel comfortable with in a randomized character creation system. Similarly, I also feel like 4e's providing point-buy options and things that you can take after
rolling if you're disappointed in your PC is a further step forward from there, too. I'm actually less sold on the Talent-Skill split in 2e, though on the whole I think it's at worst a sidegrade. Skills are messy, but given the overly punishing nature of Basic Skills done without the Skill in 2e is one of the places I think it stumbled compared to 1st, I can't help but wonder if there might not have been another way to handle it. I especially like the way Skills give a nice little suite of bonuses and stack up with one another, and the way Skills that don't sound useful for an adventurer will usually include some general bonuses that will still help with adventure. Having Trade (Artist) on my sheet and having my PC try hard to be good at painting in 2e is too often a flavor thing, while 1e would make it do something more concrete. Though this could have been solved by cutting down on what counts as a 'Skill' in 2e and making more of the sort of 'side profession' skills like art or cooking into Talents to make them work more like 1e, especially as 2e stated it didn't want to have detailed crafting systems or whatever so it could focus on adventure. Still, Skills in 1e definitely had their charm and were one of the fun bits to read.
The funny thing is, when you examine the damage die as randomization and the level of defense you get from equipment, you actually get a proportionally similar amount of DR from equipment (relative to the damage die) in 2e as in 1e. After all, if you're randomizing with a d6, 3 points of DR from full plate and a shield is equivalent to 5 points from full plate in a d10 based system. However, as you're using the same strength and toughness numbers (albeit more tightly controlled and not advancing as quickly, with outliers much less common) the effect is to make toughness less important as a component of DR. Remember, I was able to potentially start a dwarf with 7 Toughness (and armor) in this system. As a starting PC. That is actually still almost possible in 2e, in a very, very outlier situation (Career with Very Resilient, roll 20 on 2d10 for base Toughness, buy +5 Toughness with your starting advance, bam, 60 Toughness Dwarf), but much less likely to come up. Also, since you're using a d10 to randomize, while having more actual wounds, it's less likely you'll run into situations where you outright need exploding dice to hurt someone or where you'll almost automatically one-shot them. Still, those lower points from armor and the higher points in 2e can be deceptive; 3 points of DR matter a lot in a d6 randomized system!
What really, truly surprised me in 1e is how much less hostile it is than I'd expected it to be. You know, Grim and Perilous Adventure, very old system and all that. But the GMing advice is actually quite fair, and very good for the time. I will always have some fondness for anything that points out directly that adversarial GMing is dumb as shit because the GM in a traditional players-and-GM arrangement holds all the cards. A focus on 'you win by ensuring you and everyone else had fun playing' is really good! The other interesting part is how it chides a GM away from making players' endeavors fail all the time; players need to succeed sometimes so they'll take risks. They 'want their PCs to be heroes, not idiots', in the game's own words (or a paraphrase thereof). There's a lot of 'let them try, this is an adventure-fantasy setting even if it's a bit grimier' advice. Sure, you start out low, but even in 1e the expectation (especially with Fate in the mix) seems to be that if you can survive, you really should become someone impressive. The sense I always get from WHFRP (in all editions) is that the low start is there for a sense of progression, and I was glad 1e came right out of the gate with that in mind.
Which is generally how I feel about it, having read it and pondered it. It was a good foundation for a game series, and significantly better than I expected. I admit I went in expecting this would be some crazy, old-school mess, and instead I found a functional RPG with a lot of enthusiasm and the bones of the games and setting I love already in place. As a bit of gaming history, if you got the 1e book with the general 'all of Warhams RP' PDF set Cubicle 7 made available cheap, I'd really recommend giving it a read just to have a look. I might even try running it some time just to see it in motion for curiosity's sake.