Alright, you know what? It's time.
We talk a lot about Shitfarmer gaming, usually derisively. About 'earn your fun' stuff being a big groggy barrier to entry and how starting a D&D game at 1st level is a shitty throwback to tradition. We're usually right about this. But here is one of my favorite RPGs of all time, and I'm here to tell you how you can lead the exciting life of a ratcatcher, a terrified peasant, and a minstrel suddenly told to take up the sword and bumble for all they're worth in the dark forests of the Not-Holy-Roman-Empire. This is a game that strongly encourages dozens of tables, rolling for just about everything for your PC (including your class!) and that features the very real chance your party won't have a single person who is really a trained combatant at the start of an adventure.
Why do I love this game? Because that really doesn't tell the whole story. It might be that I've had a GM who fudges things until we can survive (I can never tell if he cheats on his dice) but I've had amazing experiences with this game, and specifically with the sense of progression; run well, the game is always heroic, just the scale of heroism ramps up as you become more capable and draw more attention. Start out fending off raiders to rescue the coaching inn you're staying at, climax the campaign at saving the world from a terrifying vampire lord, that kind of thing. There's potential, the system works well enough to play with minimum houseruling, and the silly but fun fantasy kitchen sink setting is full of neat ideas. Also, outside of The Dark Eye, where else are you going to get your required amount of slashed sleeves, landschneckts, and American players trying to do terrible German accents?
Let's start with PC creation. PC creation is insanely random. You choose a race (Human, Dwarf, Halfling, or Elf in the main book), which affects your stats, what careers you can roll, and some of your special abilities.
Human: Humans don't get any stat adjustments, they have the best Fate rolls (a sort of metacurrency that can be spent to avoid certain death or to gain rerolls or bonuses on critical checks), the second best Wounds (Hitpoints), and they get 2 Random Talents from a table (stuff like a permanent +5% to one of your stats, resistance to magic, the ability to handle disease well, etc).
Elf: Elves are broken motherfuckers, straight up. They get +10% to Ballistic Skill and Agility with no corresponding penalties, and then they get to pick between a +5% to Willpower or Intelligence and can start out able to use a Longbow (one of the better ranged weapons) regardless of their career. Their drawbacks are poor wounds, terrible Fate, and being an Elf in Warhammer, a setting where people do not put up with Elf Bullshit.
Dwarf: Dwarves get a +10% to Weapon Skill, a +10% to Toughness, a -10% to Agility, a -10% to Fellowship (Charisma), and major bonuses to making stuff and fighting orcs and goblins. They're tough, salt of the earth guys who get on well with the humans due to a long history of working together. Most people respect dwarves well enough. Good at Wounds, mediocre at Fate.
Halfling: Personable and good at stealing crap, Warhammer Halflings' street vendor pies are not to be trusted (but omnipresent). They get heft Strength, Toughness, and Weapon Skill hits (10% each) but similar bonuses to Fellowship, Agility, and Ballistic Skill, plus they're immune to mutation and hard to hit with Chaos. Great at Fate, terrible at Wounds.
After that, you roll 2d10+20 (+30 if your race is good at it, +10 if you're bad at it) for each stat: Weapon Skill, Ballistic Skill, Strength, Toughness, Agility, Intelligence, Willpower, and Fellowship. One roll can be dropped and replaced with a roll of 11 (the average of 2d10) at your option. After that, you roll on a table for your race for your Career, the starting class that determines what you did prior to becoming an Adventurer. This can range from a political agitator, to a retired soldier, to a priestly initiate, but they all try to give you a solid base of skill with what you did before you lost your wits and decided to go fight ratmen for a living. You can, of course, pick your Career instead of rolling, but if you do that the entire party will obviously be nothing but Ratcatchers. You then fill in the skills and talents from your starting career, roll a d10 each and check on table for your starting Wounds and Fate, give yourself one stat advance from your first Career, and now you're ready to go get terrible diseases and bumble through renaissance/early modern Germany!
Also let's hear it for Warhammer Fantasy, an RPG that fully embraces black powder and firearms.
It's time for more
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e!
Alright, it's time to explain Careers, then we're going to make a (probable) peasant as an example.
Careers are one of the cores of the game and the absolute core of the advancement system. A Career determines what advances, skills, and talents (Talents are a bit like Feats) you have access to. Instead of making advances cost more or have diminishing returns, you have caps on how high you can take each stat, which skills you can buy, and which career you can go into next after you've bought everything out of your current one, but every advance costs 100 EXP and you earn at least 100 EXP a session (more for accomplishing things or if the GM feels like accelerating advancement). This is a touch I like quite a bit; you're earning a new talent, or skill, or a stat-up after every session and so it makes it hard for things to stagnate.
For your first career, you either pick from or role on the list of Basic Careers. Basic Careers are the sorts of thing you did before you were an adventurer, and usually only have a +10 or +15 cap on their best stats. They're also uniform in how many advances they'll take a starting PC to get out of them; almost all of them take 10, a couple take 9. This means everyone will promote into a second class at roughly the same time and if you're earning bonus EXP, it doesn't take that long. An Advance is either a new skill, a new talent, a +5% to a stat, an extra Wound, an extra point of Movement (I think only one career in the game gives this, the dwarven Runebearer messenger), an extra point of Magic, or an extra Attack. Note a lot of fighting Basic Careers can still get a second attack to start with; the Soldier having a 45-50% to-hit but two attacks helps mitigate the early game whiffing a fair bit. You can also transfer to a different Basic Career at any time, with no restrictions, by spending 200 EXP. If you want to do something wildly different like making your Squire fall in with thieves and hard times, you could make him a Thief despite it not being a career exit for him.
When you roll your first career, you also start out with all of its listed skills and talents (in addition to any racial skills) except for places where it states a career gets one OR the other skill, in which case you pick one. You may, at your option, spend EXP to buy the skills and talents you don't start with, but this isn't necessary to complete the career and advance. You also get all the 'trappings' of the career to start. Say you were an Outrider; you'll have your horse and a light crossbow to begin with in addition to the basic melee weapon and pittance of gold every PC starts with. Or a Hunter will start with their longbow. This can be a really big deal if you get to start with a gun.
Once you finish a Career, you look at its exits. These are the careers it can promote into, usually a mixture of sidegrades and upgrades. Promoting costs 100 EXP and instantly moves you into the new career. When you promote, though, you do not get all the skills and talents of your new career like you did the first one; you'll have to buy them with EXP. If your new career has a skill you already had, you have the option to spend 100 EXP to get a permanent +10 to uses of that skill, but again, this is not required to finish your career. No skill can get up to more than Skill+20.
One really shitty rule that I will admit my group has universally ignored is that you have to have all the Trappings of a new career to promote into it. It never really looked like it was necessary and it bottlenecked things in a way we didn't like.
For an example career, let's take our Hero, the Ratcatcher. She starts with the ability to care for her dog, train her dog, sneak through the sewers, spot danger, search for hidden things, and set traps. She's good in tunnels, resistant to poison and disease, and gets the ability to use slings (which is nice, they're one-handed, about as good as a bow, and let you use a shield). She'll need to buy +5% to Weapon Skill, +10% to Ballistic Skill, +5% to Toughness, +10% to Agility, +10% to Willpower, and 2 additional Wounds to finish her time as a vermin soldier. She also gets to add some animal traps, a sling and ammunition, a pole with dead rats for advertising, and her small but vicious dog as her loyal companion for her Trappings. Once she's done being a Ratcatcher, she can promote into a bunch of other Basic careers (A Bone Picker scavenger, a professional Grave Robber, a Jailer, a Thief, or an honorary dwarven Shieldbreaker, even if she isn't a dwarf) or one Advanced one (She can immediately become a suave cat-burgler if she wishes).
So that's the Career system. Which species of PC would you like to see rolled up and created? Dorf, Hobbit, Manling, or Elf?
Alright, then. Thus begins Bogdan Stoutfoot!
His initial stat rolls: WS 27, BS 42, S 27, T 27, Agi 44, Int 31, WP 34, Fel 39. I got ridiculously lucky rolling him (3 17s? Only one stat below an 11?) and so Shallya's Mercy (the 'make one stat roll 11') will go to his Fel, raising it to 41.
As a halfling, he gets 1 random talent, night vision, resistance to all mutation and Chaos influence, and the ability to use a sling. Their provincial English life also gives him Gossip, Genealogy/Heraldry, Common Lore (Halflings), Speak Language (Halfling), Speak Language (Reikspiel), and his choice of a trade skill in cooking or farming. His random Talent is WARRIOR BORN, raising his WS to a very unhalfling 32. Bogdan is astonishingly strong and skilled at hand to hand combat for a halfling, which means he's still slightly below average for a human on physical ability but a bit above one on melee skill.
Also gets 2 Fate (minimum for a Halfling), and 11 Wounds (Maximum for one, Bogdan is the most badass of all halflings).
His Career options are: Entertainer (A circus performer, singer, or something similar), Thief (Self explanatory), or Fieldwarden (Halfling rangers/defenders of the Moot, often have to fight vampire minions from neighboring Sylvannia). Which should I do him up as?
It's time for more
Warhammer Fantasy RP 2nd Edition!
So, we've been through the basics of the Career system and created a halfling Luchadore completely by accident. Now, you'll notice he's got a bunch of skills; skills are one of the weaker parts of the book. They're fine in that the basic system for them works okay (1/2 stat chance if you're untrained, stat chance if you're trained, plus or minus modifiers) but the problem is the list. The specificity and applicability of skills varies *widely* throughout the skill chapter, and so you end up with stuff where, say, Charm is used for almost every single positive social interaction circumstance (lying, bluffing, arguing, begging, etc) but there are three separate stealth skills (Shadowing, Silent Move, and Concealment) and the chances a career won't give you all three are surprisingly high. Thus, if you want to play a persuasive PC the skill chapter's got your back, but a thief needs tons of different skills just to do any degree of thiefing. This is a problem that afflicts an awful lot of rules systems with a wide variety of skills, but I feel like it kinda interacts badly with the career system in this case. There's also the problem that a randomly created party can find itself badly lacking some relatively rare and important skills (like being able to pick locks or treat wounds) and might not end up with the ability to patch in those holes for quite some time if you're playing strictly RAW.
Thankfully, the rules do introduce a patch for this, though it isn't a particularly good one. Elite Advances are skills or talents a PC gets permission to buy because either the party *really* needs someone who knows how to do X or somehow a good chance to learn or demonstrate talent with X came up during the game. The game recommends using them sparingly and making them cost 200 instead of 100 EXP, and they're a very DM-May-I solution to the problem, so I'd have preferred something more solid.
There's also the problem that you need to buy all your class's skills and talents to exit it unless you pull Pay 200 EXP To Move To A Basic Career Of Your Choice and frankly, some of the skills aren't useful things. I've never actually had Consume Alcohol come up as a major part of gameplay, and skills like Lip Reading and Blather (distract someone for a bit by being ridiculous, like the end of Guardians of the Galaxy) are decidedly niche. In general, I feel like the game has too many things as skills that could perhaps have been compressed into a smaller, more focused list of skills and like some of the more niche stuff like Consume Alcohol could've been split off into just running off your base stat instead of being something you spend character resources on. The skill system works fine and is very simple, but the skill list could do with some re-examining.
The only bit of real complexity in the skill system is Opposed Tests; you and a foe roll off and whoever gets more Degrees of Success (full 10s under their target number) wins and succeeds. If they tie on degrees, the actual lower roll wins. If they both fail, they both reroll; if you and the guard both fail stealth and perception, respectively, you both check again because your mutual incompetence cancels out.
Another important bit about skills that the game is kind of schizo on: One of the reasons an Average PC starts with like a 35-45% success chance in their skills is that's supposed to be your odds under really dangerous, crisis situations. In general, a skill test is only called for when shit has gone down and you're in real trouble (like rolling Weapon Skill in combat). The problem is, the example adventure in the back (and other published scenarios I've read) are full of 'Roll Perception at -10 to progress the plot' gates. This gives the wrong impression about skills (namely that you have to roll for everything) and it's bad adventure design to boot, but it muddles the skill system further and really isn't productive.
I am not a fan of WHFRP's pre-published scenarios. Next Time: TALENTS!
I kinda wish I had some flan, now.
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2E!
Alright, Talents. Talents are a lot like Feats. They're inborn abilities your PC has that provide passive (and sometimes active) bonuses to your abilities. I would say I prefer Talents to Feats by far, though, if only because the list isn't so insanely bloated and most of them are actually useful. They're also used to represent inborn traits like a halfing's resistance to Chaos.
Let's take a look at Bogdan to explain talents a little bit.
Bogdan has 6 Talents: Night Vision (He can see in low light without needing a torch or lantern, an inborn Halfling ability), Resistance to Chaos (He's genuinely immune to Mutation, which could be a big deal, and gets +10% to resist any magical Chaos attack, also inborn Halfling stuff), Specialist Weapons Sling (He can use slings with no penalty despite them being tricky weapons that need training), Warrior Born (+5% to Weapon Skill), Very Strong (+5% to Strength), and Wrestling (+10% to Weapon Skill when grappling, +10 to Strength when Grappling). This is a pretty good sampling of what Talents do. With the 0-100 cap on skills and stats, Bogdan getting a +10% when he's grappling is actually pretty significant (out of the box he'd have better than even odds in a grapple with a Chaos Warrior, an 8 foot tall super viking. He's a hobbit). The stat buff Talents mostly exist in PC creation and Basic Careers; they're there to ensure, along with Shallya's Mercy for giving yourself an 11 on one stat roll, that it's really hard to be genuinely bad at the primary abilities of your first class and more likely you'll be good at them. Stuff like Resistance to Chaos exists primarily as a racial ability and is unique to Halflings (their entire point is they're pretty happy generally being milquetoast british rural folk and so are surprisingly resilient to horror, just like Tolkien). Stuff like Wrestler is also common; a fair number of talents add +10% to your checks in certain places (take Tunnel Rat, which gives +10% to stealth and navigation rolls when you're under ground) or for a group of skills (like Dealmaker giving you +10% to Haggle and Evaluate so you can value stuff accurately and bargain well).
Other talents gives permanent passive buffs in combat. Strike Mighty Blow, for instance, is one of the big markers of a professional fighter. It gives +1 to all melee damage rolls. In D&D this would be insignificant, but this is a game where the average PC does d10+3 damage and even if they take heavy combat classes, will generally only get up to d10+5. An extra +1 damage, especially once we get into talking about how damage reduction works (It's a much bigger deal more consistently than in Dark Heresy) is a major bonus, and it helps to separate the PCs who are professional warriors from the ones who do something else but can fight if they have to.
Finally, there are a couple actual active-use combat abilities. What's interesting about these is Disarm and Strike to Stun, say, aren't made at a penalty like combat maneuvers in Pathfinder or D&D. In the case of Disarm, you don't even have to pre-declare it; if you hit with a melee attack you can just declare 'Yeah that was a disarm attempt', roll opposed Agility, and if you succeed you knock the foe's weapon loose. The only penalty to the attack is that it's not going to deal damage. Similar for Strike to Stun; you just test Str, your foe tests Tough with a bonus for his helmet, and if you succeed he's stunned for a few turns and can only parry and try not to be hit in a daze (which is probably death in this combat system).
One of the primary reasons, despite being similar in concept, that Talents work better than Feats is that Talents don't cost nearly as precious of a character resource and so they're free to just be little tricks and edges your PC has picked up. In D&D, paying a resource I only get 7-19 of my entire character build for a +1 with one specific weapon so I can access any of the actually good feats past it is a fucking joke. Here, firstly, none of the Talents actually require other Talents and there aren't big 'talent trees' for your build. And they cost exactly the same EXP cost as buying a new skill or one stat advance. Again, it's a fairly simple rule but it does the job.
Next time: STUFF. Encumbrance rules we've always ignored and that are, to the game's credit, noted as optional! Why armor really fucking matters! And goddamn the British for their ridiculous currency system!
Now that I'm done running games for the weekend, it's time for more
WARHAMMER FANTASY ROLEPLAY 2E!
Equipment is in an interesting place in Warhammer Fantasy. On one hand, it's incredibly important because the relatively low numbers (and relative scarcity of large piles of money) mean any advantage you can get or decent stuff you can loot will help you out a lot. On the other hand, it's both much more highly abstracted than something like D&D but there are also a few weapon types that are just straight up pointless, because with the small scale of the numbers there isn't much granularity to model the differences between weapons.
I'm going to be straight here: They have rules for Encumbrance based on your strength score and if you're a dwarf or not, but firstly, they make it clear they're optional as is, and secondly, I have never once actually used them while playing or GMing WHFRP. We always just went with an abstraction that you had to leave most of your spare weapons with the party's baggage and horses during combat and picked a couple things you could reasonably carry plus your armor, which to the game's credit it makes clear is an acceptable way to do things.
As for armor, armor is life and armor is love. Armor is one of the most valuable pieces of equipment in the game. There are two systems for armor: Basic and Advanced. Basic armor, all that matters is 'is your armor Leather, Chain, or Plate' and you have a uniform amount of Armor Points on each part of your body. Armor costs are all or nothing. In Advanced, because the game features hit locations, you have different armor on different body parts, meaning you might be able to get by with a cheap mail coat without arm or leg protection to go over your padded underarmor but your legs and arms would only have padding protecting them. I've always preferred Advanced because it makes it a lot easier to upgrade armor gradually as you go, adding chain and plate elements to the leather and padding you probably started with. Why is armor so good? An average starting PC has a Toughness Bonus (tens digit of their Toughness) of 3 (4 if they're a dorf, 2 if they're a hobbit). This reduces all damage taken by that number; a suit of cheap leather is easy to get, has no drawbacks, and gives an extra point of reduction. Chain gives -10 to all Agility tests, but combined with leather has a full 3 point damage reduction, doubling the average character's resilience. Plate has an amazing 5 points, but in addition to the chain penalty, lightly penalizes movement speed (unless you're a dwarf or rolled lucky on the human/hobbit starting talents and got Sturdy, which eliminates all armor drawbacks). Now, bear in mind the average hit does d10+3. If an average human is wearing plate, this gives them a full 50% chance to tink that hit like it was Fire Emblem. That's on par with an additional active dodge or block, while also greatly reducing the damage you take even if the damage roll gets through. Armor is expensive as hell and getting it up to full plate will be a long term goal, but a tough warrior in a suit of plate is really hard to take down and unlike in 40kRP, everyone and their dog isn't carrying armor-ignoring 30mm autocannons that shoot rockets. Only a few guns and bows pierce armor at all and even then, they only ignore 1 point of protection.
The full plate experience is a wonderful catharsis after a long campaign of worrying about conscripts with spears getting lucky hits.
Next comes weapons. Weapons are heavily abstracted compared to D&D; a bunch of weapons are Ordinary, meaning any PC can use them without a penalty. This includes shields (can be used to Bash to get a bonus on Striking to Stun, give a +10% to Parry rolls, let you parry without spending an action once per turn, and penalize enemy shooting. Shields are life.), Hand Weapons (Any generic one-handed primary weapon that just gives d10+Strength Bonus damage, every PC starts with one), Spears (Can't be used to free-parry even with a shield, but subtract 10% from enemy defenses for reach), hunting bows (d10+3 basic ranged weapon with a half action reload), crossbows (d10+4, longer range, but take a full turn to reload. Great for unskilled characters making an opening volley before melee), daggers (mostly a backup weapon), punching people with a gauntlet, and javelins. A character who only has Ordinary weapons still has a fair bit of variety and a hand weapon is perfectly fine. There are also Two Handed weapons, which trade the defense of a shield and are easier to dodge for rolling twice for damage and taking best, flails, which get to roll twice and take best only on the first turn of combat but lack the other drawbacks of great weapons, longbows, which are just bows with longer range and a point of armor piercing, repeating crossbows, which absolutely suck and I don't know why they cost a proficiency (they do d10+2 for the privilege of not reloading), guns (which do d10+4 and roll twice and take the best, but take a long time to reload and cost a ton), cavalry weapons (which effectively act exactly like flails), slings (which can use a shield while being as good as a bow), and fencing swords (which do less damage but penalize enemy defenses) Some of these weapons have very redundant stats; there are only so many ways you can modify what a weapon does when you're trying not to stray far from d10+SB damage and only have so many special abilities.
There are also a bunch of simulationist-esque items, tools, medical supplies, lock picks, different fashions of clothing, etc, but many of them have relatively few actual mechanics with them and will mostly come up as treasure or situational factors. Finally, there's money.
I want to kill whoever used the british currency system for this game. Why couldn't they use a simple, made up base 10 currency system? Instead it's 20 silvers to the crown, 12 pennies to the silver, and it's all just unnecessarily annoying.
Next Time: How to Actually Fight, Including A Heroic Match With Bogdan Strongfoot (Ring Name Slamwise Gamgee)
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 2e!
Alright. We've gone over the basics of how to make a character, how to gain stats and powers, and what equipment is and does. Now it's time to see all this in motion with combat. One of the reasons I like combat in this game is that it's one of the places where it becomes clear the game subtly favors the PCs, even as it talks up how much it wants them dead. It's dangerous as all hell, yes, and the book repeatedly notes your PCs probably shouldn't want to fight unless they stand to gain something or absolutely need to defend themselves, but there's still plenty of room to try to be a hero.
The first thing you do in combat is roll Initiative; the problem with this is the initiative system is heavily, heavily weighted by stats. You take your full Agi score and roll d10, adding that to it. Opponent has an Agi 10 higher than yours? You're screwed. While this maps to the tabletop game it's aping, it's a little too deterministic for my taste and my groups almost always backported Agility Bonus (working much like Strength Bonus) from Dark Heresy and just added that to the d10, especially as a party all going last almost automatically would be in real trouble. While determining initiative, you also determine if anyone was Surprised. Getting Surprised is a death sentence (or a major boon for PCs) because not only do you lose your first turn, anyone attacking you gets +30% to hit, which is absolutely crushing, and you cannot Dodge or Block. If you're surprised, you'd better hope you're tough as nails and wearing plate or you're in serious shit. Conversely, PCs should almost always want to surprise enemies when possible. People usually get a Perception (Int+Skill modifiers) test to avoid surprise.
Once that's dealt with, people take actions. You get 2 Half Actions or 1 Full Action (none of this Move/Standard/Swift/whatnot from D&D) with the restriction that you cannot take more than 1 Attack or Cast type action in the turn. This is to prevent, say, a character with 1 Attack from using a Standard Attack (a half-action) and then doing it again, or a wizard from casting 2 Half Action cast time spells per turn. Half Actions are:
Aim: You get +10% to your next standard attack.
Cast: This varies, but a lot of basic combat magic is a Half Action to cast.
Short Move: You can move up to your Movement stat in meters as a half action.
Stand/Mount: Stand up or get on your horse.
Standard Attack: Make a single ranged or melee attack.
Defend: All melee attacks against you this turn take -20% to hit, but you can't combine this with attacking.
Delay: End your current turn and make another half-action later in the round.
Feint: Test WS against an enemy's WS: If you succeed, your next standard attack can't be blocked or dodged.
Maneuver: Test WS against enemy WS: If you succeed, you force them to move 2 meters in any direction and may follow up for free.
Parrying Stance: If you're not using a pair of weapons that give a Free Parry, you must take a half action to enter this Stance to get a Parry during a round.
Ready: Draw a weapon or switch between an unready weapon and a ready one (like putting away your bow and drawing a sword).
Full Actions are:
Swift Attack: Use your full Attacks characteristic and swing away. If you're using a fast ranged weapon (half action reload) and have Rapid Reload, or are using a repeating weapon like a Repeater Crossbow or Firearm, you can Swift Attack with ranged weapons. Or if you have a brace of pistols and Quickdraw.
All Out Attack: Get +20% to hit but lose the ability to block or dodge.
Guarded Attack: Make a single attack at -10% but get +10% to your active defenses.
Jump/Leap: Do some parkour shit. Note: If you have the Swashbuckler talent this becomes a half action. Also note: Moving out of combat with Jump doesn't provoke an Attack of Opportunity. Hilarious for getting someone with that talent and then doing crazy flippy shit in gritty early modern Germany.
Charge: Move 4xyour Movement in Meters and then melee attack, minimum of 4 meters, at +10% to hit.
Disengage: Move up to 2xyour Movement out of combat and avoid all AoOs.
Run: Move up to 6xyour movement. Ranged shots against a running character are at -20%, melee attacks are at +20%, as they're hard to hit but not really able to defend themselves.
As you can see, the combat system is fairly simple and basic. The most important additions are Parrying and Dodging. To be able to Dodge, you have to have the Dodge Blow skill. If you do, you may always attempt to Dodge one MELEE attack per round. In WHFRP, you *cannot* actively defend against ranged attacks; they're usually not quite as damaging but the only way to stop them is taking cover and having a shield. Cover will give them -20% to hit, a shield will give them another -10%. Dodging is done with a simple Agility based skill check. If you succeed, the attack you were dodging misses. Parrying is similar; you make a WS test with a +10% bonus if you're using a shield or parrying dagger, and if you succeed you're missed. These represent a last-ditch extraordinary effort to stop a successful attack; the game makes it clear a single attack is actually an exchange of blows, not one swipe, and the normal WS test is representative of trying to hit someone who is ducking, weaving, and parrying already. To be able to parry as a free action without using a Parrying Stance, you need to have a hand weapon, morningstar, dagger, rapier, or foil in your main hand and a dagger, shield, buckler, parrying dagger, or sword-breaker in your off-hand. You only get 1 Parry and 1 Dodge a turn, so at most a skilled character can turn aside 2 hits.
Once someone gets whacked, you reverse the to-hit dice and compare on a small table (a relatively easily memorized one, thankfully) to see where you hit them. This is only really necessary if you have piecemeal armor (and the game acknowledges this) or when someone's out of Wounds and taking Critical Hits. Then you roll d10 and add the Damage of the attack, compare against their Armor and Toughness, and subtract the result from their Wounds. This is also where a major player-favoring rule comes in. ULRIC'S FURY (RIGHTEOUS FURY in Dark Heresy), a rule that should always be written in all-caps. If you get a 10 on any of your damage dice, you re-test the attack. If you hit, you inflict ULRIC'S FURY and keep rolling d10s until you roll something other than a ten, and add it all together for damage. Spells can also Fury, but they test the caster's Willpower stat instead of Weapon Skill or Ballistic Skill. ONLY PCS get Fury. This can be a huge advantage and lets you potentially take on really dangerous foes; it also makes Impact weapons even more valuable since they roll damage twice and take the best.
Wounds are explicitly meat in WHFRP, but they're also explicitly relatively superficial. While you still have Wounds left, you'll take all kinds of dramatic but superficial bleeding cuts, bruises, etc, but you never take a telling blow until you run out of Wounds. At this point, you get Critted. You take however much damage you should've taken past 0 (Say you have 3 Wounds and take a hit for 5, you'd take a +2 Critical), roll d100 (though it could just be d10 as they're in increments of 10) on a table, and check which Crit Result you got and where. Crits are REALLY BAD and anything with Crit Value 6+ will probably take you out of a fight. You might also suffer permanent injury, lose limbs or eyes, get your armor shattered, or bleed out. Mook enemies just die the second they take a Crit 6 result (or when they run out of wounds, depending on taste) but major enemies take full Crits, as well.
Combat is also where Fate really comes into play. A character can spend Fortune (their regenerating stock of Fate) to reroll any missed roll in combat (or out of it), instantly gain an extra Dodge or Parry (above the normal limit), gain an additional Half Action, or roll 2d10 for Init instead of d10. Similarly, if you're crippled or killed in combat, you can spend a Fate point (permanently lowering your pool) to avoid it; the game makes it clear this means you're now out of the fight and not liable for further harm. You get captured instead of killed, or a crippling wound turns out not to have been so bad; the general narrative contrivances used to make it so characters who fall in combat aren't permanently disabled or out of the story. This means that as dangerous as battle is, most PCs are going into it with a couple literal extra lives. You also regain permanent Fate for particularly heroic acts or at the end of major campaign events, though the rate of this is left up to the GM.
Now, all that boring talk out of the way, let's see it in motion with Bogdan. Bogdan's traveling circus is being robbed by orc bandits, when the young Halfling steps up to challenge the leader of the raiding party to a wrestling match on the condition that if he loses, the orcs get everything without a fight. The Orc, understanding that refusing a chance to fight a costumed halfling who appears to be dead serious about this would be missing out on the funniest thing to ever happen to him, gladly accepts. Bogdan and the Orc roll d10 for Init, but Bodgan's superior Halfling Agility means he's certainly going first. He elects to Charge and launch into a flying arm-bar; as he's Charging and trying to initiate a Grapple, he gets +10% to-hit for Charging and +10 for his Wrestler ability. He rolls a 66, a miss even with his excellent (for a halfling) WS (He needed a 57), and elects to spend a Fortune Point to reroll. He then rerolls into a 02, which will definitely hit. The Orc Leader, surprised, tries to dodge out of the way but gets a 55 vs. his TN of 31 and fails; Bogdan now tests his 42% (32% Str+10 for Wrestler) Strength against the Orc's 35. The brave halfling gets a 73, a failure, but the Orc fails with a 55, and they retest as per Opposed Checks. Bogdan then gets a 34 vs. the Orc's 49, beating him and throwing him to the ground and getting him into a hold. Now grappled, the Orc Leader is both being jeered by his fellows and extremely shit-pissed at the halfling who is currently trying to pin him for the three count. I admit when I started rolling this I did not expect the halfling to win that quickly, but it's goddamn hilarious.
Alright, sorry I'm late on updating my own review, I got distracted by running my Bret game and killing infinity skaven. Vermintide is pretty great.
It's time for more WHFRP 2e!
It's time for one of the biggest chapters in the book: Magic. Magic is an odd duck in WHFRP. It's not nearly at the same level as all the psyker stuff in 40k; most wizards are, after all, reasonable, licensed people who are tinkering with the stuff of Chaos for the good of the Empire under controlled conditions, combined with bickering academics. They're distrusted by the common folk, because who the hell knows what a wizard is going to get up to (and they don't often show up outside their colleges unless something has gone terribly wrong), but all in all they're much saner than 40k's sanctioned psykers. Wizards draw on a single Wind of Magic to avoid corruption; by focusing on one color and one lore, they can handle the stuff of the Warp much better. This means there's no such thing as the D&D 'I can use every spell ever!' wizard in Warhammer Fantasy. Similarly, your spells aren't limited by casts per day, but rather by the chance of things going fundamentally wrong when you use magic (though it's a smaller chance than in 40kRP).
Magic's general resolution method is simple. You take as much time as the spell says you need to take, use an Ingredient for a bonus to cast the spell if you have it and wish to (+1 to +3, depending on the rarity and difficulty of the spell), Channel for an extra half action and a Willpower test to add your Magic rating to your casting check if you have time or want to, and then roll a number of d10s up to your Magic stat. You then compare the result to the casting number of the spell; if you equaled or exceeded it, the spell goes off. If you get all 1s, you gain some Insanity (we'll go over that when we get to Sanity, it's bad) and the spell fails automatically. If you roll doubles, triples, or quadruples, you roll on a Chaos Manifestation table to see what went wrong; your PC will only instantly die from magic 10% of the time on a quadruple result, in a game where Mag Rating 4 is the highest PCs will generally get. The chances that you just die and get fucked forever are fairly low. You're much more likely to get stunned at an inopportune time, gain insanity, take damage, or lose the ability to use magic temporarily from miscasts. Armor also screws up magic, so don't expect spellcasters to wear much unless they're priests.
Priests also get magic (eventually), but it works differently. They only have one miscast table, the Wrath of the Gods, indicating they drew the personal attention of their God and get interrupted by an untimely holy vision or something. It's generally much safer than arcane magic but less powerful, and priests can get a Talent called Armored Caster that lets them use magic in armor just fine. Their Lores are based around their gods, but a Priest won't get their God Specific Lore until their 3rd career at earliest; this is sort of a problem because it takes forever for a cleric to actually have the spells they signed up for and the petty divine magic they get at 2nd Career isn't very useful.
All wizards start with Petty Magic. Petty Magic is the basic stuff, not unique to any Lore or Wind, taught to all apprentices. It's stuff like a basic damage 3 Magic Missile, some relatively useful illusions (considering how much you want to avoid combat, generally, being able to distract people by summoning the sound of an incoming State Troop regiment of reinforcements can be very helpful), and Sleep. Sleep is exactly as useful as Sleep always is; hitting an enemy with Sleep (50% chance for a new wizard to cast, then a WS test to touch the target, then a WP save for them, so it's not easy to do) pretty much takes them out. Not only are they dropped for d10 rounds, but they're Helpless. A Helpless character takes an extra d10 of damage from any hit they take. They wake up after the first hit, sure, but doing 2d10+3 to a mook is probably going to kill it. Sleep is never not useful.
Priests get a variety of minor buffs and heals for Petty Magic, basic stuff like instantly restoring 1 wound or giving +1 Move, +5% Agility. Priest Petty Magic is helpful, but nothing great. Thankfully, Priest is a pretty good general career already, so they're not reliant on magic.
Hedge Magic is terrible. A Hedge Mage is a mage with no official training, on the run from big-hatted witch hunters and with no further way to advance as a mage besides going into normal Apprentice Mage and begging the colleges to let them in. They get no ability to deal damage, some useless stuff like protection from rain, and a minor stun-shock that isn't as good as Sleep. Don't play a Hedge Mage, it's just asking for trouble.
Next, you have Lesser Magic, which is universal across Divine and Arcane magic. Lesser Magic is a group of utility spells everyone who works the Winds might pick up, like Dispel or the ability to summon armor equal to your Mag that won't interfere with spellcasting. Nothing here is essential (outside of Dispel. You want Dispel), but almost all of it is helpful.
Finally, the Lores. I'll be doing the Lores as a separate update; they're long and there's a hell of a lot of them. The big deal with Lores is you get your entire Lore when you learn it. You're limited only by your ability to get the spells off. So while a newbie Bright Wizard might know Conflagration of Doom (their insane supernuke) he's not going to pull off Casting Number 31 with a 2 Mag rating. Still, getting your Lore at Career 2 as a wizard is a huge deal and a big step up from being an Apprentice. It becomes an even bigger deal once you have the Wizard Sourcebook, which includes a bunch of really cool alternate spells and a neat system by which you begin to take on traits of your Lore, with bonuses and penalties (a Jade wizard of life starts to make plants grow by their presence or have difficulty handling metal, etc). I'll get to that when I finally get to that book later.
Next Time: The Winds of Magic!
Vermintide both continues to inspire and impede my attempt to review.
More WHFRP 2E, The Lores of Magic!
One of the big things preventing a WHFRP wizard from being as batshit insane as a 3.5 one is that the average wizard will only ever learn 1 Lore. It is POSSIBLE to learn a second Lore, but that second Lore will be a Dark Lore (requiring you to use an extra die that can count towards miscasts and getting very serious men and women in stylish hats to have an unhealthy interest in you) and is mostly unlocked via a miscast giving you some insanity and the ability to buy it. Or being turned into a vampire (We'll cover vampires when we get to their book). Neither of these are really standard procedure for a practitioner of wizbiz. Thus, you only ever have, say, The Lore of Beasts and your lesser magic, preventing wizards from being able to do absolutely everything. On the plus side, buying the Lore talent means you know every spell in the Lore. On the downside, I feel like no-one ever really ran the numbers on the Casting Numbers for spells; a lot of them are ruinously hard to cast even as a Master Wizard and still don't have the best odds as a Wizard Lord. 4d10+4 (if Channeling) still doesn't give you good odds to hit, say, the 31 that Conflagration of Doom requires in the Lore of Fire. Certainly it's the Lore's nuke spell, but it always feels like something is just a little off in the CNs. As an added note, magic changes its users; wizards' personalities and bodies are slightly reshaped by their favored wind. This won't be mechanically enforced until Arcane Marks come up in Realm of Sorcery, which is a really cool subsystem that helps make wizards nice and weird.
First, then, the Lore of Beasts. I have to say this is another problem: The Lore of Beasts just sucks. It's the magic of controlling and directing animals, shapeshifting, and summoning murdercrows. The problem is, it's locked into a very old-school sensibility of shapeshifting, where using something like 'turn into a wolf' or 'turn into a bear' just gives you that creature's entire statline, meaning you'll quickly be outclassed by any fighters in your party by the time you can cast those spells. You can force allies into a Frenzy, but this isn't actually very good: It just gives them -10% to WS and Int, +10% to S and WP and makes them attack the nearest enemy without control. The game consistently overvalues Frenzy, considering the number of high level spells that grant it. Controlling and speaking to animals can be useful, and summoning a large blast template of crows to eat peoples' eyeballs out is hilarious, but Beasts just isn't really worth taking as a lore. At best it makes you into a mediocre sort of fighter, it lacks for combat magic, and the utility spells are very situational. Beast mages tend to shun villages and towns, turning anti-social and nervous in crowds.
Coincidentally, the next shitty lore is next, the Lore of Death! Death magic is really cool, fluff-wise. Whereas necromancy is the magic of clinging to life, Death is a lore about acceptance and natural endings. It's about knowing when it's time to let go, and drawing power from that. Unfortunately, they couldn't seem to translate that into particularly useful magic. At the very least, Death's ability to speak to the dead is really useful for mystery scenarios and investigation, and they do get some cool stuff like being able to decay an enemy's sword to dust in his hands (though it's heavily capped on the size of the object) or summon a (not that effective) magic scythe to their hand. They can make allies accepting of the possibility of death, turning them Fearless, which is much better than Frenzy. They can also permanently debuff foes by making them age in an instant, drain small amounts of HP from enemies, and their big capstone spell does d10 damage to a ton of enemies with no reduction of any kind. Death isn't as useless as Beasts, just its combat magic is, surprisingly, really bad at actually killing people. Death mages slowly get paler and more drawn, but are known for their patience and sense of humor.
Do you like burning things and having absolutely nothing but combat magic? If so, the Lore of Fire is for you! Almost everything in the Lore of Fire is straight up direct damage, ways to defend against fire, or ways to make you a bit harder to hit in melee. You can also summon a kickass sword made of fire. When combined with the Mighty Missile talent to gain +1 to damage rating on all spells, a Bright Wizard can wreck the hell out of people. A high up Bright Wizard can pull out stuff like a d10+8 AoE cone as he breathes fire on his enemies, or a bunch of lighter multi-hit fireballs. Their problem is that's all they got. If you're a Bright Wizard, your solution to everything is going to be fire and you'll have to rely on your mundane wits for utility and investigation. Their nuke, the Conflagration of Doom, hits a large area for d10+4 every round with a duration of 'until nothing lives within in the target area, due to escaping or burning to ash'. That should tell you a lot about Bright Wizards' mindsets. Bright wizards tend to be rash and fiery. Who would have guessed.
The Lore of the Heavens is an interesting one. The magic of prophecy and the sky, Astromancers can read the omens and try to get clues about what's coming up next, can use their foresight to grant rerolls by warning of future mistakes, can reveal illusions and impediments to truth, and can throw lightning at dudes. Heavens is a really solid all around lore, having some decent and fairly easy combat magic and a lot of useful prophetic and detection stuff. Their combat magic never really gets that much better than just carrying a crossbow (though it should be noted magic weapons work much better on demons and ghosts) but it's reliable and easy to pull off, and they do get a big AoE lightning storm once they're a skilled enough wizard. Their capstone spell is really interesting, though: It strips a Fate Point off an enemy permanently, or ensures that the next critical hit instantly kills that enemy instead of rolling for effect. They have the ability to twist fate to ensure someone's doom. The book notes (like most capstone spells) that all wizards within miles can feel that spell being cast and that your Order will have words with you if it's used frivolously. Celestial Wizard grow unhurried and dreamlike, moving about life with slow, wise purpose.
The Lore of Life is one that gets much better with Realms of Sorcery and some added spells, though it's an okay support and utility Lore as is. Jade Magisters practice the magic of plants and natural places, and are much in demand because they can bring a field back to fertility or bless a couple with children; I'm pretty sure you can see why both the peasantry and the nobility would love having these wizards around. They can slow enemies down with thorny curses, help people continue on without needing food in lean times, heal themselves if they're standing on natural ground and have plenty of time, teleport along leylines, talk to rivers and terrain features, do the aforementioned returning of fertility to barren lands, livestock, or couples (which, while not useful in combat, is a great way to earn money and make friends), end plagues and unnatural blights, and freeze people or hit them with geysers. Life is great if you're not expecting to use much combat magic, and a lot of the utility and support magic IS very useful, I'm just always surprised it only has a self-heal instead of being able to heal allies. Jade wizards grow uncomfortable with metal, and start to bloom and wilt with the seasons.
The Lore of Light is a strong contender for the most powerful general Lore. The magic of illumination and enlightenment, it has a great deal of power against demons, it lets you shoot lasers from your eyes, it can heal you and others for a small amount, let you see through illusion, enlighten others temporarily, blind guys, protect yourself from arrows, and straight up instant kill demons or summon an orbital laser strike. Light's power lies in the fact that it has a bit of everything: Healing, buffing, debuffing, a great low level direct damage spell, and the aforementioned ability to, with some luck, instant-kill some of the most deadly enemies in the game. Being able to test WP against a bunch of demons at once and Banish every single one that fails is insanely good. Light Wizards grow more intellectual and meditative as they grow in power.
The Lore of Metal is really neat. It's the magic of created things, logic, and mathematics. Gold Wizards can turn peoples' armor to lead, rust a sword to dust, spray silver arrows all over someone (and them being silver means vampires and other things vulnerable to it get turbo-screwed by that spell), craft fine items from their raw materials in minutes, temporarily enchant things, turn off enemy magic items, and even help make people more intelligent or transmute a disordered mind back into an ordered one (they can cure insanity, one of only two real ways to do this). Metal magic is mostly utility and crafting magic, but the crafting ability is tremendously useful; raw materials are much less expensive than finished goods and with some luck, they can produce Best quality items, which normally cost 10 times as much (for a +5% bonus to tests involving them). Great for making money and friends, but also great for equipping your allies in beautifully crafted plate and with fine swords and shields. Gold Wizards tend to grow stiff and inflexible, becoming increasingly conservative as they age.
The Lore of Shadow is the magic of illusion and trickery. Grey Wizards practice magic that can let them hide easily, change appearance, befuddle enemies, cut people apart with terrible knives of shadow (don't know quite how that fits in but everyone needs an attack spell, I suppose), create all manner of illusions, and throw entire enemy forces into complete confusion. Shadow magic is obviously mostly utility and spells for fucking around with people when it comes to combat, but it does a pretty good job of allowing the wizard to be a neat wizard-spy and trickster. Their only direct damage spell is hard as hell to cast (Shadow Knives, CN 22) but it's also tremendously powerful, hitting a number of times equal to their Magic stat for d10+3 (d10+4 with Mighty Missile) that ignores armor. I'm not quite sure why the trickster mages have a particularly powerful but difficult attack spell, but there it is. Shadow Wizards grow more roguish and indistinct as they grow in experience.
Next Time: Dark Lores and Divine Lores!
Alright, I've finally defeated the Grey Seer, and so now it's time for more
WHFRP2e, More Wizbiz (really priestbiz)
I don't know why, but for some reason slogging through all the various spell schools is always one of the hardest parts of any gaming system for me.
Next on the agenda, we've got the two core book Dark Lores. Dark Lores are special in that they require you to use Dark Magic to cast them (the extra die that replaces your lowest die, gets added to miscasts, etc) and in that they can have side effects. If you miscast percentile rolls doubles, you get an additional, painful permanent effect from the spell. These can include permanent mutations, stat losses, or vulnerability to things like sunlight. This is pretty fucking bad! In return, Dark Lore spells tend to be really powerful (though core-book Necromancy is kinda underwhelming).
First up is the Lore of Chaos. Tome of Corruption, the Chaos book, will have lores for every Dark God, but this is a generic Undivided list. It is *nasty*. It ranges from being able to stun people (and inflict Insanity) with visions of Hell to buffing stats, to summoning demons, doing Damage 4 hits equivalent to your Mag rating (Damage 5 if you have Mighty Missile; Burning Blood is a better Fireball), taking over opponents' actions, turning your hand into a Damage 7 +10% to hit ignores 1 point of armor nimbus of destruction, mutating enemies, or laying down a massive damage 8 template that also stuns and renders enemies Helpless (the condition that makes them get auto-hit at +1d10 damage). Chaos Magic is designed for bosses, not so much for PCs, and it will fuck you up.
The Lore of Necromancy is also supposed to be a villain lore, but it's kinda underwhelming compared to how badass chaos magic was. The reanimation spells are good, obviously; minions always help and they can create some pretty nasty undead. Call of Vanhel will let them donate extra actions to all their minions, which is potentially lethal. They also get some spells to buff their toughness and perform some gross HP regen by drinking corpse blood. Amusingly, Necromancers get a massive undead destruction spell, which instantly kills all skeletons and zombies in a wide area and hits all the other kinds of undead for Damage 5. You could make a pretty amusing dark hero Necromancer who wanders around fighting other undead.
Next come the Divine Lores. Divine Lores are a little hurt by the fact that priests don't get one until their 3rd career at earliest. That takes a long time in play and they're not that amazing for how long it takes to learn them. They're safer, though; priests only have a single miscast table and it's nowhere near as weird or catastrophic as mages. They can also learn to use magic in armor, so that helps. They're also very short; each Lore is only like 6 spells. All of them are pretty helpful, but a Priest PC relies a lot more on their mundane combat abilities, knowledge, and charisma than their magic.
The Lore of Manaan is the magic of the god of the sea. It allows you to curse someone with terrible luck, bless sea voyages, and hit people with geysers. It's pretty unimpressive unless your campaign takes place on boats.
The Lore of Morr is the magic of dreams and death. Morr is a cool guy and his spells will let you fuck up undead, bring peace and serenity, give out visions, and enhance your buddies' ability to murder their enemies.
The Lore of Myrmidia is the magic of strategy and leadership. It lets you enchant spears, buff combat abilities, and protect buddies. Pretty helpful for a warrior priest.
The Lore of Ranald is the magic of the God of Thieves. It lets you help people sneak about and buff their luck.
The Lore of Shallya is a big deal. A Shallyan PC is by nature going to be a pacifist, because she's the Goddess of Mercy. Her magic is incredibly useful, though; it provides cheap and easy healing, disease cures, insanity cures, poison cures, oh, and an anti-Nurgle laser. Yeah, a laser. The pacifist healing priestess, faced with enemies sworn to the God of Disease, can just whip out a purifying laser cannon that does d10 damage regardless of their DR and stuns them.
The Lore of Sigmar is the big headliner for the Warrior Priests, one of the big iconic hero types for the setting. It's the magic of...well, it doesn't have much of a theme to it. It's sort of general heroic cleric spells, having some minor healing, anti-undead/demon attack spells, buff up your hammer with the power of righteousness, and encourage allies. Sigmar is above all the God of the Empire, the ideal ruler, and it's a little hard to make magic that hangs on 'Being Extremely German'.
The Lore of Taal and Rhya is the magic of wild places. It lets you take on the strengths of animals, talk to animals, and do general druid stuff.
The Lore of Ulric is kind of a shitty knock-off of Myrmidia and Sigmar. Ulric is the 'old' God, the one Sigmar worshiped, and he's all about axes, wolves, winter, and other generic barbarian northern god stuff. His spells manipulate cold, make allies go berserk, and encourage people with wolf stuff. I don't especially like Ulric, either as a God or his Lore.
The Lore of Verena is pretty neat. She's the Goddess of Truth, Knowledge, and Justice, the wife of Morr and the mother of Shallya and Myrmidia. Her spells let you put the question to people, enchant the sword of justice to have bonuses against people you've proven committed a crime, and to do cool investigator-priest stuff. Verena's pretty neat.
There, at last, are all the core book Lores. There's also Ritual Magic, which requires a lot of time, materials, power, and generally fucks you if you mess it up but is used for massive effects like causing a huge earthquake or calling down a comet (there's sadly little actual Ritual Magic in the core book, just an earthquake spell and a weird 'temporarily turn everyone in their region into Beastmen' spell). They also touch on magic items. Magic items are really rare in the Warhams. PCs generally won't get them, and if they do they'll only have a few at best. They're sometimes created by exceptionally powerful wizards or priests, but more often items become magic by sympathetic power. Say, the sword of a great hero, stored in a shrine for a century and venerated as a relic of that hero? It would gain magic power from that. They can also be created by dwarven rune-smiths, and of course elves make magic shit all the time (typical bloody elves, everything being so easy for them) but you generally won't get much in the way of magic stuff, and when you do, it'll probably be fairly minor, like a sword with AP or +1 to damage. Still makes a big difference, mind you.
And that's finally it for magic! Next up is a chapter I particularly like; Religion and Belief in the Old World!
Strap in, folks, it's time for the Gods and Religions of
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 2nd Edition!
This chapter is just about entirely fluff, but it's both pretty cool and very important fluff for the setting. Religion is tremendously important to the people of Warhams, and not just in a 'SIGMAR WALKS WITH US, WE CANNOT FAIL!' way. Yes, Sigmar is the most widely recognized and beloved God in the Empire, but as the book points out, other lands consider him a Regional God instead of part of the nominal global pantheon, and even in the Empire you're rarely going to find people who are solely devoted to Sigmar even if everyone pays him respect.
One of the really important points they establish early on is that Warhams takes place in a polytheistic society and that honoring and recognizing the Gods is considered a matter of public good (which was generally the case, look at ancient Greek laws against atheism). An atheist in Warhams isn't considered educated or intelligent, he's considered to have a giant target painted on his head and that target risks the entire community. The Gods (the proper ones, anyway) are relatively distant, but they're almost definitely there and the magic their priests use is held up as proof, as are the occasional blessings and inexplicable occurrences that mark their worship. A priest of a specific God is not so much for her God but against others, as she is a religious professional qualified to perform the rites specific to placating and drawing the blessing of that specific God. So, say a Priestess of Verena (Goddess of justice and knowledge) was passing a shrine to Taal and Rhya (Nature). She'd still be expected to leave an offering or a short prayer, or to observe those Gods' holy days, just in a capacity as a layperson instead of a priest. Similarly, all of the Gods possess strictures that are generally above and beyond lay respect and only required of priests or especially devout laypeople. For instance, Shallya (Mercy) demands her followers never arm themselves beyond a walking staff. One doesn't need to follow that stricture of pacifism to pray to or receive benefits from Shallya and her order, but if one was a priest of Shallya, they'd be expected to follow the full strictures.
This doesn't mean there isn't religious strife in the Empire, mind. The churches of the various Gods are tremendously powerful organizations, full of political influence and piles of tithe money, and they often clash over who gets pride of place. This is especially true in the case of Sigmar and Ulric; northern cities often tend to venerate Ulric as their chief God and cite the fact that Sigmar himself was an Ulrican. Some of them even go so far as to blaspheme and say Sigmar doesn't exist, and Ulric is merely answering all those prayers on his behalf. This has been the cause of some really nasty civil wars in the past. This is also probably a big reason a lot of the Southern provinces are starting to embrace an alternate God of war and strategy, importing Myrmidia to replace worship of Ulric. This is especially true when you learn Ulric hates guns and would rather Imperial soldiers faces nine foot hulking hellvikings with an axe and no helmet. Ulric is kind of an idiot, though it should also be noted that he's tried to give multiple signs and visions saying 'For fuck's sake guys knock off this fighting with the Sigmarites.'
There are a few suggested rules that PCs might occasionally receive the intervention of the Gods, but that it requires sacrifice and devotion. The Gods judge sacrifice based on what the worshiper can give rather than the overall value of the sacrifice; the example given is that a pauper giving the last shilling he owns would be more likely to be heard than an Elector Count building a golden statue. No real rules are given for this, though, and divine intervention is firmly in the area of GM Fiat (and should generally be quite rare). Sacrifice and tithing is a common practice, temples and shrines are also major social centers for their communities. The Empire has a ton of various festivals and holy days, because everyone loves a chance to get together, take a day off work, fulfill their piety obligations, get drunk as hell, and eat a bunch of sausage. Elven and Dwarven religion are mentioned, but in far less detail; dwarves worship ascended Ancestor Gods, Elves have their own pantheon.
Sometimes you piss off the Gods. You can usually tell you did so because now you have dysentery. Priests insist that 'the flux' is a common sign of divine disappointment and sin. A PC should go to the cults and offer reparation to the God they wronged, by acts of public repentance, paying fines, and various other humiliating and potentially dangerous ways to make amends. It's worth it, though, because pissing off the Gods is really bad. It can get way worse than dysentery, and it's best not to test their patience lest you bring trouble down upon everyone around you.
Next Time: All The Gods, All The Detail, All The Cults. If I tried to put that all in one post it'd be enormous.
Sorry it's been so long; I've been busy and distracted with a lot of stuff and working on my group's games.
TIME FOR MORE WARHAMS
Alright, time to talk about the Gods themselves, since they're a big deal for the setting.
First on the docket, and probably the best known, is good old Sigmar. Sigmar is the heroic, legendary Conan-the-barbarian-but-with-some-political-acumen founder of the Empire. He united the tribes of the region, fought against Chaos and the Orcs, and most importantly, befriended the dwarves by rescuing their king from a goblin ambush at the age of 15. This friendship led the dwarves to back the humans up and teach them how to forge steel, which gave them a very helpful leg up technologically and a steadfast ally that remains to this day. One of the actual tenants of Sigmarite religion is to maintain the ancient alliance with the dwarves, and Sigmarite priests and priestesses generally learn Khazlihad (The language of the dorfs) to better work with their allies. As a God, Sigmar might be the literal ascended ruler of the Empire after he wandered off with no heir and left behind the Elector Count system to choose successors, or he might be the embodied ideal of the Good Emperor formed by peoples' faith in his legend; this is never confirmed. The Sigmarite church is the main religion of the Empire, and everyone in the nation will raise a glass to Sigmar or celebrate his holy days. This has led to the Arch Lectors (Cardinals) of Sigmar being incredibly wealthy and having a reputation for decadence, but past Grand Theogonists (Sigmar Popes) have done some pretty incredible stuff, like the time one of them sacrificed himself to tackle Vlad von Carstein (Badass TurboDracula, we'll get to him in Night's Dark Masters) off the walls of Altdorf onto a bed of stakes. Sigmar's faith stresses unending opposition to Chaos and Sigmarite Warrior Priests are expected to be prepared to fight as much as to minister to their flock. Sigmar also stresses the need for the unity of the Empire and for its various peoples to come together despite their differences in the face of evil. In general, Sigmar is the glue that helps the Empire stick together. His holy symbols are hammers, comets, and laurel wreathes of victory.
Myrmidia is another ascended mortal, by some stories, and by others she's the daughter of Morr (Death/Dreams) and Verena (Wisdom/Justice). Either way, people agree that she was raised in either Tilea or Estalia (Tileans and Estalians have fought many wars over this), saved the land, and then ascended to the heavens rather than die when she was mortally wounded by an assassin. She is the goddess of strategy and the refined science of warfare. She is mainly worshiped in the southern Empire, as they both have the most contact with the southern lands of Tilea and Estalia, and they have most of the fancy engineering and artillery that Myrmidian warfare prefers. Let's be straight up: Myrmidia is Athena+Marian Cult Catholicism. Her rise in popularity within the Empire and transition away from being seen as a regional god is another major threat to the Ulrican faith, because Myrmidia is fine with people using guns and cannons while Ulric grumbles about them being unfair. Her holy symbols are the spear and shield, the weapons of fighting in ordered ranks, and the eagle as a symbol of bravery and victory. Her priests and templars are expected to be local leaders and to organize the defense of whatever locale they preach to should war come to pass.
Morr is a big fucking deal. Sigmar might be the cultural glue of the Empire, but Morr is one of the most important gods of the entire Old World and the biggest enemy of Chaos in the entire setting. Morr is the contemplative, even-handed god of death and dreams, the shepherd of souls who guides the dead. This specifically means that he guides them to Morr's Realm rather than to the Realm of Chaos. Morr is directly responsible for protecting the souls of the dead from being consumed by the Warp. If Morr was not doing this, the Old World would be overrun by demons and devils right quick. People are rightly terrified of Morr (Who doesn't fear death?) but he's an old school Death God, being fair and inevitable rather than cruel or malicious. Much of his character can be seen in his stern, taciturn priests; they're publicly fairly indifferent and quietly tend to their duties, but behind the scenes are often seen ensuring even the poor and destitute are given a proper and respectful burial, or supporting the families of the deceased who have no-one else to turn to. Morr's Templars are the Black Guard, menacing-looking and silent knights who watch over the Gardens of Morr (Cemeteries) and battle the undead and necromancers; once again, the big theme is that they look terrifying but are actually brave and decent men and women doing their best to protect the dignity of the dead and defend the living from terrible undeath. Morr despises undeath. All of it. Even undead that are sentient and happy with it (Vampires) must be put to the torch and returned to rest for their affront against the God. Morr's most prominent holy symbol is the raven.
I will do the rest later, just wanted to shake off the cobwebs and get some forward progress going again.
It's time to pick back up and get in my shitfarmer saddle with some more Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd Edition
Myriad Song will return after this.
I left off on religion, but I've decided it's a lot better to do a brief summary of the Gods and the Empire's approach to polytheism rather than a long description of each, because that can wait for the eventual Tome of Salvation.
Morr is the God of Death, Dreams, and Peace. Morr is really important, even if people are scared to death of him. Morr is the god who watches over the souls of the dead, protecting them from being taken from demons or violated by necromancy and bringing them into his realm. His priests tend to be quiet men and women with a great deal of compassion for the grieving and respect for the dead. It is not uncommon to see a Morrite priest quietly helping to support the widows and orphans left behind by men and women buried in Morr's Garden. It is also not uncommon to see the quiet priests and templars take up their holy symbols and stakes and go out to return some vampires to their eternal rest. Interestingly, Morrites tend to have a wicked sense of dry or gallows humor.
Manaan is the God of the Sea. Manaan is wild, unpredictable, and essential. People propitiate Manaan because when you're out on the ocean, you don't screw around with the ocean. Even Norse raiders who follow the Gods of Chaos will still offer sacrifices to Manaan before they get out on his turf. Manaan reserves the right to screw you over if he feels like it, like many classical sea gods. His temples tend to be situated in great ceremonial ships floating at anchor in the port towns of the Old World. In one case, in the Kislevite city of Erengard, his ceremonial ship was set afloat during the sack of the city by Chaos Warriors and the priests successfully defended it from every longboat that tried to board, even though the thing was never meant to be seaworthy (or armed); this was treated as a great and direct blessing from the God and was also awesome. Priests of Manaan tend to be called on to try to sooth the wildness of their God, and to try to offer advice to sailors on the many superstitions they'll need to indulge to keep from pissing him off and getting them all killed.
Myrmidia is mostly a foreign goddess who is gaining favor in the southern Empire. Worshiped as the primary Goddess in much of Tilea and Estalia (Not-Italy and Not-Spain), she is the goddess of righteous action, careful planning, and the 'science' of warfare. She is pretty clearly meant to be Catholicism+Athena. While she is a war god, she is notably different from Ulric, the northern war god (who I will get to in more detail because his worship contains some of the worst religious stuff in the game) in that she favors the use of new technology and the study of all styles of combat; Myrmidian knightly orders range from wandering strategists who are ordered to help train and lead local militias in battle as they pass, to light infantry specialists who are studying the Elven way of fighting to master skirmishing and scouting in the heavy forests of the Empire. Her priests tend to be community organizers and planners, helping to work with burgomeisters and watchmen to protect their communities. Her growing popularity comes because, well, professional military officers quite like the idea that yes, you should be studying and innovating in combat rather than trying to take on a 9 foot hellviking with divine plate armor in a 'fair' fight as a normal human with a fancy uniform and an arming sword. Myrmidia is the daughter of Morr and Verena, and sister of Shallya
Shallya is beloved by everyone in the Old World. The goddess of mercy and healing, not only do annointed Shallyans have some of the only reliable healing magic in all of the Old World, her priests and temples eagerly work to provide for the poor, the sick, and the injured. Almost everyone was born in a temple of Shallya or with a Shallyan midwife, and many will eventually die with a Shallyan cleric or lay-priest trying to ease their suffering and sickness. Shallyan worship is popular enough that a thief who robs a Shallyan is fairly likely to get beaten up by his compatriots and have the goods returned to the temple with an apology (and a beaten up thief who now needs healing, obviously). Shallyan priests and priestesses (despite the popular image, she has plenty of male priests; it's just that people tend to take orphaned girls to the Shallyan temple as wards and so they grow up to be priestesses) tend to be melancholy people of enormous fortitude and empathy. They see the suffering of the world, they do what they can for it, and even though they can't save everyone, they have the toughness and courage to keep trying, even at risk of their own lives or health. Of all the Gods, Shallya is the one everyone agrees really, truly cares. Her priests will never use violence, for the most part, except against followers of the Chaos God Nurgle, the lord of Sickness and Decay; her Lore only gets a single attack spell and it only works on Nurglites, but it ignores absolutely all defenses, stuns them, and basically ruins their entire day. Shallya puts up with a lot, but she does not put up with Nurgle.
Verena is the mother of Shallya and Myrmidia, and the goddess of justice and knowledge. Her husband, Morr, often seeks her council in interpreting his dreams and visions. Verenans care about truth, and they care about justice, and they care about both more than they do secular laws; if a law is obviously unjust you will find Verenans at the forefront of arguing it should be changed. And then arguing over what constitutes an unjust law. And then arguing about the historical contexts of their prior arguments and are you really citing more Tilean Classical works, Markus, because we've been over this and they're just hopelessly idealistic about everything and don't really describe accurate historical knowledge (You've seen academics, you know how deep this rabbit hole can go). Vernans can make surprisingly good adventurers, because a character who seeks out knowledge of history, serves the cause of justice, and likes investigating crimes and mysteries basically describes the average PC as it is, just with somewhat less kleptomania. Vernans are very important to the entire legal profession in the Empire, having great influence over the education of jurists and judges.
Sigmar is the Big Guy in the Empire (and not worshiped anywhere else). The Heledenhammer, the wielder of the Warhammer for which the setting is named, Sigmar was the first Emperor over 2500 years ago. A chieftan of the Unbergoen Tribe, as a young prince he saved the High King of the dwarves from a goblin ambush and quickly made allies with the dwarven realms. Bringing the humans and dwarves together, he united the human tribes, sought advanced metallurgy and engineering from the dwarves, and smashed the orcs and goblins that threatened to crush his fledgling Empire. He then spent the next 60 years building roads, writing laws, implementing the beginnings of a bureaucracy, and setting up the future electoral system and politics of the Empire. The one thing he didn't do was produce an heir, and one day the old Emperor simply walked off into the forest, leaving his hammer to his Empire and orders to the Counts to pick a first among equals to be an Emperor in his place. A couple centuries later, the story began to go around that he had not gone off to die, but rather to transcend the mortal world and become a God. Sigmarite Worship became the most popular worship in all of the Empire, with the Imperial Pantheon placing Sigmar as the king of the Gods and the ideal Emperor. Sigmarites preach unity and order, calling on the people of the Empire to set aside regional concerns for the good of all and to remember always their friendship with the Dwarves. They preach the defeat of Chaos (and that the defeat of Chaos is possible!) and always add in 'Also kill some more Orcs, Sigmar always liked that bit'. Sigmarite Warrior Priests are one of the standbys of the setting, and adventuring, crusading clerics should be pretty common as a PC archetype.
Next Up: More Gods.
It's time for more Warhammer Fantasy!
So, Vlad von Carstein and his army of the damned are marching to Altdorf, capitol of the Empire, to declare himself Emperor and put an end to the Time of Three Emperors. He's got a huge army, the living Sylvanians are happy to march alongside it and help out, his wife turned out to love being a vampire and he and she are still having their epic romance, and it's looking like everything is coming up Vladimir. Then, after a routine battle in Stirland (one of the eastern provinces he's marching through), while he's doing his usual routine of offering his prisoners a chance to live and join him or die and join him, the Imperial general breaks free of his captors, grabs a sword from a skeleton, and lops Vlad's head clean off in a sudden fit of enormous heroism before being torn apart by ghouls. However, Vlad reappears the next evening before his grieving army, unhurt and alive, and a few escaping Imperial survivors get word back to Altdorf that Vlad seems to have a magical ring that will keep bringing him back to unlife so long as he possesses it. That's right, Warhammer gave Dracula the One Ring.
Vlad's army continues its invincible march to Altdorf, seemingly unstoppable and immortal, and besieges the city. While his army rests during the day, the Imperials pardon a master thief from their dungeons and charge him with an incredible task: Sneak through an army of the undead and steal the Carstein Ring. Somehow, the man succeeds, but even without his ring Vlad still has an immense army, dozens of vampires, and an unending wellspring of confidence; when the chief priest of Sigmar, the Grand Theogonist, challenges him to a duel on the walls of Altdorf, Vlad accepts without hesitation despite no longer having his invulnerability ring. During the fight, the Theogonist realizes he cannot overcome Vlad's superhuman strength, and does the one thing a selfish man like Vlad would never expect: He flying tackles him off the battlements and sends both of them to their deaths on the pits of spikes lining the siegeworks below. I admit telling this whole story is not that essential to an overview of the Old World or the Empire, but I've always found the defeat of Vlad von Carstein to be an example of Warhammer at its best. A compelling villain whose one weakness was the pope football tackling him off a wall. Vlad's death didn't end the Wars of the Vampire Counts, though; to this day, the Empire has never really been able to stamp out the vampiric influence in Sylvania, and every century or so a new Lord of the Von Carsteins will make an attempt (more on that when we get to Night's Dark Masters).
Amazingly, even having to narrowly fend off Dracula didn't reunite the Empire. The provinces remained divided for another 300 years, until disaster struck in the northern lands of Kislev. Kislev (Eastern Europe/Russia) has always faced the forces of Chaos, people mutated and twisted by the Dark Gods of the north. They're raided every year, and every year the Winged Lancers and horse archers and ice witches and bear-riding Tsars drive off the Chaos Warriors and Norse marauders. This year was different. Rather than isolated tribes and warbands raiding for loot, slaves, and sacrifices, a massive army marched into Kislev, led by Asuvar Kul, Everchosen of the Gods, a warlord who had won the favor of Nurgle (God of Disease and Decay), Slaanesh (Pleasure, Creativity, and Excess), Khorne (Boring as hell Blood God, of the titular BLOOD FOR THE), and Tzeentch (Annoying God of Fate, Magic, and Change) all in accord. He did not mean to raid, but rather to burn the entire country to the ground as an offering to his Gods, then move on to the rest of the Old World. Meanwhile, as Kislev begged their Imperial allies for help, the Empire was too busy fighting over which of the three Emperors should rule the whole thing to actually muster a proper army and help their neighbor.
That is, until a noble of Nuln (a city in the south known for its art, culture, universities, and enormous cannon foundry) named Magnus began to make the rounds of the Imperial courts, arguing for unity because the Empire would clearly be next if they failed to stop Kul. He encountered his greatest resistance when he came to the court of the Ar Ulric of Middenheim, who denounced Magnus as a heretic against Ulric who intended to replace the cult and force conversion to Sigmarite worship. Magnus tried reason with the man, and when he could not, he called upon Ulric to test him; Magnus walked into the eternal flame of the high temple of Ulric, and was untouched by the fire. Whoever said you can read Ulric as bored by the politicking of his followers and impressed by someone who shows courage and takes action instead, the overt divine sign of favor Magnus received is pretty good argument for that. In mirror to Sigmar, Magnus managed to unite the courts of the Imperial candidates under his banner and was declared Emperor, given an army, given Sigmar's hammer, and sent to deal with Kul.
Also in mirror to Sigmar, Magnus reached out to allies of other races, calling upon the old alliance with the Dwarves but also making a new one with the Elves of Ulthuan, a magical floating island off to the west of the Old World. Their great archmage Teclis had foreseen that Chaos was a real problem this time, a threat that would require breaking their isolation, and Magnus convinced him to help train the first human Battle Wizards, trained to use a single Wind of Magic in order to limit their exposure to Chaos. The Elves also sent soldiers and their own great wizards, and together these armies marched to relieve the beleaguered defenders of Kislev. During the ensuing battles, Magnus killed Kul in personal combat, cementing his popularity as hero and Emperor for all time. He would go on to reign for fifty years, a solid rock of stability that solidified the newly reunified Empire. He would also establish the Colleges of Magic, who have fast become an institution in the Empire. Since Magnus, the Imperial electoral system has not gummed up like it did to create the Time of Three Emperors, and the Empire has slowly healed from its centuries of division. The current Emperor is the Elector Count of Reikland and Prince of Altdorf, Karl Franz, a man known as much for his skills as a politician and diplomat as for his ability to swing a warhammer. I've always liked that the canon Emperor is actually much more a general and politician than a great smasher of faces; Karl is a man who knows when to compromise and when to hold firm, and who realizes his position as Emperor involves herding cats against horrible tentacle gribblies from the North.
Next Time: The Storm of Chaos, Before They Retconned It
Time to break up this Hamschat with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay
So, the Storm of Chaos is a good time to talk about GW and the more metafictional aspects of the setting. The Storm of Chaos was an 'awesome' idea GW had to incorporate the game results from players all over, as well as tourney results, to tell a story about a Chaos Lord making his way to Altdorf for the final battle between good and evil (which they apparently really wanted Chaos to win). Several things stood in their way: First, GW is extremely bad at balancing games and so while Chaos was very strong in the fluff, it wasn't hard to beat it on the table. Second, their plan assumed the Orc players would all go along with Chaos and be good little minions, happy to be second banana to a personality-less guy in a horned helmet. If you know anything about warhammer orcs you know this wasn't going to happen, but GW was completely blindsided by it. Chaos was SUPPOSED to sweep down from the north, blow through Kislev, then burn an unstoppable path to Altdorf. Instead, going wholly by game results, GW had to cheat the results to even have Chaos reach the Empire rather than just get their shit kicked in by Russians. Not deterred, GW still set up a battle at Middenheim, a city in the northern Empire located on top of a massive plateau and with the strongest defensive position in the Old World, and then had the fight come down to two special characters rolling at one another until the Chaos guy won. Unfortunately for Chaos, this is where the Orcs intervened, with Grimgor Ironhide punching out the Lord of the End Times, telling him 'I's da' best n' you's not worth killin'!', and then moonwalking off the stage, leaving writers who were extremely enamored of Chaos to try to figure out how to explain how this whole mess hadn't just emasculated them as a bad guy. They've been salty about it ever since, and a lot of the miserable End Times storyline was apparently how they'd originally wanted the Storm to go, proving that what we got was a mess but still way better than GW's 'vision'.
So, how did this all play out in the fluff? Well, as we went over with Magnus, it's a normal thing for the Kislevites to face Chaos incursions each spring, as the nomadic people from up north raid for food, gold and slaves. In the early part of the 26th century, though, the armies posted on the north for the Spring Driving were defeated, survivors and warnings coming back south saying that another great and united host of Chaos was coming, led by an Everchosen. Archaon, Lord of the End Times, had united the tribes and was coming south to kill everything, as Chaos is wont to do. Unfortunately for him, the Empire wasn't split into three bickering states at the moment, and so the Grand Theoganist decided this could be sorted out if a badass battle pope decided to take an army up to help Kislev, with Emperor Karl Franz' blessing. Normally, given the track record of Imperial Grand Theoganists, this would have been enough, but the writers were very eager to convince people Archaon was cool and so rather than give him a personality or even any discernible dialogue, they had him easily kill the popular Grand Theoganist of the Empire, Volkmar the Grim (Archaon is the worst. Yes, of course the villain gets a few victories, but the only personality Archaon ever got was that he has treasures that give him many pluses to his stats and GW would occasionally feed a better character to him to try to make him seem impressive). This caused some serious trouble for the Church of Sigmar, as well as one of the more potentially interesting (though GW didn't do anything with it) subplots of the Storm: With Volkmar dead, his successor, Johan Esmer, was an unpopular and corrupt insider among the cult. Someone more interested in maintaining the tithes and gilding the alters than defending the Empire.
Discontent with Esmer and worry about the hordes gave way to a tide of religious fanaticism within the Empire, flagellant bands and schismatics popping up all over the place. In one case, a fanatic named Luthor Huss found a young blacksmith's boy who had managed to defend his village with nothing but his smithing hammer. He managed to convince the mob that the boy, Valten, was literally Sigmar reborn to save them all, and a wave of popular religious insanity brought this untested lad right to the gates of Altdorf, where Huss demanded he be instated as Emperor. This was a problem for Emperor Karl Franz, who was currently in the middle of putting together an international multiracial coalition of 'people who do not want to be murdered by hellvikings' in order to head north and save whatever they could, and who was not eager to hand over all rulership and generalship to a muscular 18 year old boy. At the same time, he couldn't ignore the crowds; people needed something to believe in and simply refusing would have caused a civil war or rebellion. Showing his quick thinking, Franz embraced the boy as a blessed champion and granted him Ghal Maraz, the Imperial Hammer, to wield against the forces of darkness in the name of the Empire...but carefully kept him out of any sort of official or leadership position. By appointing the boy his champion, he'd appeased the mob and kept himself in power to finish his negotiations, quickly putting together a coalition of dwarves, elves, men, and french people (to their credit, the king of Bretonnia instantly recognized this was a global threat and eagerly rallied his knights and armies to help his neighbors. We'll get to Louen Leoncour in the Bretonnia book because he is a great character) to march to Middenheim, linking up with surviving Kislevite armies and preparing to crush Archaon.
Meanwhile, Archaon had reached Middenheim and decided to do the stupidest possible thing when confronted with such a strong defensive position: He continually assaulted the walls every day for roughly two months, grinding his army down to paste trying to climb the damn things with ladders, burning every Chaos cult in the city to try to open the gates (unsuccessfully), and generally showing he was not a particularly good general. Worse, he had passed through Kislev as fast as possible in his lust for a decisive battle and left entire armies at his heels; the Kislevites weren't the type to give up and rushed south to assist Middenheim. Even worse, the forces he had sent to 'flank' the Empire from the East had tried to go through Sylvania, and the Vampire Counts were having none of his shit. Not only did they defeat his reinforcements, but Manfred von Carstein, son of Vlad von Carstein, decided he had the perfect opportunity to rule the world: The Empire would surely exhaust itself fighting the hordes of Chaos, at which point he could fall on both with all his undead, saving the world from Chaos and securing his rulership of the Empire in one swoop. He marshaled the families and the hosts of the undead, and soon Archaon found himself under assault from the East, as well as the North, South, and the angry Ulricans within Middenheim that were still resisting him. Archaon somehow managed to find himself in a duel with Valten, Champion of the Empire, and gravely wounded the lad...only to be betrayed by his orcish allies, who were sick of fighting for him, and get punched the fuck out by their warboss, who then (as above) basically moonwalked off the stage while giving GW the finger. Chaos's horde was thoroughly routed by the combined forces of the Old World, and while GW wrote Archaon as surviving the battle but badly wounded, well...I don't think you get to be a recurring villain if you cock up the apocalypse that hard. Manfred then saw the arrayed forces of the Empire, surprisingly fresh after the drubbing Archaon had been given, and bravely ran away back to Sylvania, as Manfred is wont to do. The one wrinkle in this victory was that Valtedn survived his duel, but was later found murdered in his bed, a crime some whisper can be traced to Karl Franz (It was actually the horrible ratmen, the only villainous faction that accomplished anything; their last action of the campaign was ganking Valten out of spite/to sow religious discord in the Empire because Skaven are awesome).
So, that's the situation of the Old World when Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e picks up: The Apocalypse happened and it was baffling and anticlimactic. Good mustered all it could and...handily beat the shit out of Evil. There was plenty of damage, and shattered remnants of the horde have formed bloodthirsty warbands intent on looting and slaughter, but those are good problems for Adventurers to deal with. The time for armies is over, and the time for cleanup and dealing with the fallout has come. I know a lot of people take some issue with WHFRP2e happening right after The Big Thing Happened, but I like it that way. Firstly, because we know how the Storm was supposed to go, now, so the version that so infuriated GW pleases me. Secondly, as I said, it shifts the Empire's problems to the kinds of things a group of 3-6 nervous young people who freshly quit their old jobs to take up ADVENTURE! can help out with. Resettling refugees, battling remnant Chaos champions, investigating the murder of Valten, stopping the cults and things that sprung up in the wake of the wave of apocalypticism... The world is on the path to survival, and your job is to keep it there (and make a living).
Next Time: The Sample Adventure, And Why It Is An Example Of How Not To Run WHFRP2e.
Time to finish up the core book of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay!
The sample adventure is an important part of an RPG book, I think, because many first time GMs for a system will use that as their first example of the system in motion. I admit I had been misremembering which was the sample adventure and which was the first part of the 3 book 'official' campaign it leads into; the 'official' campaign adventure is quite a bit more chock-full of some of the worst trends I've seen in published adventures for the system than the actual core book intro adventure. The intro is, aside from a few tendencies I'll discuss as we go, mostly pretty reasonable.
The introduction begins in a small town called Untergard in the province of Middenland, one of the places hardest hit by the Storm of Chaos. Untergard's bridge turned out to be a critical choke point for stopping a flanking maneuver by Beastmen, the eternal forest-dwelling murderous goatmen who so often serve as early mooks and expendable agents for Chaos. The process of fighting over the town bridge saw the eastern half of the walled settlement completely overrun by monsters and sacked, but Imperial forces and their dwarven allies beat back the enemy and forced the frustrated warherds to turn back. Now the town is trying to get back onto its feet, rebuild itself, and resettle the seventy five or so survivors of its original population. The adventure suggests PCs be travelers seeking shelter in a walled settlement, Imperial soldiers left behind as a token garrison after the regiments moved on, Untergard militia or citizens, etc depending on their careers and composition.
The adventure next introduces the named characters for the adventure. There's the fifty-something watch captain, Gerhard Schiller, whose job it is to keep the PCs a little on task and occasionally provide backup with his watchmen if the PCs are struggling with a combat (characters like him are common in early career WHFRP adventures, and I actually approve of this; there's no guarantee a party will consist of a troop of accomplished murderers and early on dice can turn against the PCs fairly hard, and having someone reasonable to ask for a bit of extra muscle in an emergency is a useful thing without taking the PCs out of the running). There's Granny Moescher, the local wisewoman, who is secretly a decent amber (beast) wizard (and completely unlicensed and self-taught, making her a potential serious danger). She's a no-nonsense respected older citizen there to convince the PCs to have compassion for refugees and innocents in danger, but she's also the driver of the climax of the adventure. There's Hans Baumer, a local woodsman whose only real role in the plot is to tell the PCs and Schiller that there's a renewed warherd coming and the town will need to be evacuated. And then there's Father Dietrich, an older priest of Sigmar whose job is mostly to be a decent guy, offer occasional advice to the PCs, and then die in a cutscene and pass off a MacGuffin that will set off a pretty dumb subplot in the official campaign.
The adventure begins with things looking pretty good for the village. The Beastmen were driven back during the war, and not only that, but news has arrived that Middenheim was held and the war is (mostly) over, barring cleaning up chaos remnants and raiders. Not only that, but the Graf of Middenheim, the ridiculously named Boris Toddbringer (get used to hilarious German names like Boris Death-bringer, it's a Warhams tradition), has sent supplies to help in feeding the villagers and rebuilding now that the worst is over. The game has a big table for rolling Gossip to find out all kinds of rumors from the villagers while waiting for the announcement of this news in the town square, but very few of them have any bearing on the adventure and it feels like a waste of time. Especially as all the ones that sound like adventure seeds (like the rumor of a mercenary company pay chest lost out in the woods) are noted as being false. Kind of a dick move to tell players a bunch of possible sidequests/adventure seeds early on (that they only get for succeeding a skill test) and then if they pursue them say 'oh those weren't real'.
As the local captain is announcing the good news (including the news that Middenheim has held and the Empire is victorious), there's a gunshot from an unseen sniper. It misses the captain, but smashes a bottle of wine from the count's supplies, panicking the crowd. As people search for the source of the gunshot, a troop of mutated former citizens from the east side of town cross the bridge; the PCs will be the only people close enough to react in time and defend the crowd. Four mostly-unarmed mutants with no armor and relatively poor stats make for a decent intro combat; even a PC who has only an average WS and a hand weapon should be able to handle one, and everyone starts with one of those. If the PCs are having trouble, the adventure allots a few Watchmen to the fight after a few rounds, with the explanation that the PCs at least held them back from attacking the villagers and gave the guards time to organize and come to their aid. After the attack, no-one ever finds the shooter with the handgun who started the whole mess (it was a fifth mutant taking a shot from a grassy knoll across the bridge), but the guards from the village gate report a raiding party of Beastmen tried to use the diversion to climb the walls. They were stopped, partly thanks to the PCs holding off the diversion, but this is followed by Hans Baumer returning to report that the next village over has been sacked and a 200 monster Warherd is heading for Untergard. A few dozen able-bodied militia will not be able to hold the town, even with the PCs' help, and so the decision is eventually made to seek shelter in Middenheim, six days' journey away. Also important to the adventure: The Graf Strenhauser of the neighboring village of Grimminhagen survived the sack by hiding in his castle with his personal troops, and the people of Untergard have no love for the man; their village was founded by serfs who escaped from his grandfather's harsh taxation and poor rule, and to them, the man surviving by neglecting his duties is hardly unexpected. The PCs are asked to help the column of refugees; the game says that if they refuse and strike out on their own, they should have a perilous journey of their own just to remind them what they left a bunch of defenseless refugees to struggle through alone, but providing a whole second adventure for PCs who don't want to have the one written here is a bit beyond their pagecount.
If the PCs decide to have the adventure they're on, the book suggests letting them take whatever positions their abilities allow within the caravan (Students and others with Heal helping anyone with injuries or ailments, outdoorsmen helping scout, soldiers helping the beleaguered Watch, etc) but little of what they do will have much practical effect. The party's route will take them past the neighboring town of Grimminhagen, recently sacked by the forces of Chaos, as they head north to Middenheim; the people of Untergard still don't care for Grimminhagen after the history between their two towns and resolve not to bother warning any survivors or wasting time stopping there. The PCs are free to be a bit less dickish and make their way into town, if they wish. There isn't much they can do, as the people of Grimminhagen refuse to evacuate and the locals from Untergard wouldn't accept them in the convoy, but they can at least warn the survivors about the incoming Warherd; maybe they'll have some time to prepare or a few will escape.
The second day of the six day march is designed to warn the players there's something wrong with Granny Moescher, and also to give them a chance to do something diplomatic. Granny has wandered off seeking healing herbs, and her being missing is a cause of great consternation to the caravan; she's responsible for the care of several war orphans and she's one of the best doctors the people have access to. With the guards needed to watch the camp, the PCs are sent out to find her. When they do, they find she's stumbled into a patrol of wood elves wandering the Drakwald forest, and that for some reason they believe she's a witch in league with the dark powers. This is where we begin to get at some of the problems with the adventure: The adventure gives the PCs a chance to make a Charm test at +20% to convince the elves Granny is no threat; there is no information on what happens if they fail. Secondly, they get a second chance to do it with a Trade (Herbalist) test at +10% to explain the herbs really are just healing herbs (a skill PCs are kind of unlikely to have, by the way) while they also get an Academic Lore (Magic) test (if they have an apprentice wizard or something) to identify the same herbs are often used in ritual magic. There's no provision for what happens if the players make the Magic test and say 'Hey, the elves might be right. Maybe she IS a witch.' (Especially as, c'mon, you can tell: The elves are totally right). Rolling dice without an idea of what the consequences are if you fail, getting information with the explicit note that the players probably don't want to act on it (it says they should keep a success on the Magic test secret and nothing further)...these don't seem like components of a well-constructed encounter. Further, there's a sure-fire way to resolve the entire situation and that's to just tell the elves about the Warherd to the south; if the PCs do they decide they have much more important matters and run off immediately to scout that. The whole encounter strikes me as trying to give a diplomacy character something to roll for, but constructed so that even if they fail there's an easy out by just talking through the situation, rendering it kind of pointless. Also, let's face it: Put an old woman who has been around as long as anyone can remember, who refuses to come into town and live there, who goes off on her own to do odd things at night, and who is gathering ritual magic herbs (if they players figure that out) in front of a party and then have a bunch of elves accuse her of witchcraft and you should probably at least account for the possibility the players might be paranoid enough to believe them.
Next: Some cutscenes. Then some gameplay. I'm going into this level of detail on this adventure because, as I said, this is going to be a lot of players' first exposures to how to build an adventure for this system, and I can't say it's an especially good one. Not as bad as I remembered, but still.
Eh, double-posting is okay if I'm putting up a review post for Warhammer
Alright, so I'd forgotten how close we are to done with this adventure; I thought a little more happened. Instead, the next event has the PCs coming upon a ruined caravan and a terrible slaughter up ahead as they scout for the refugees. They must immediately test WP or gain 1 Insanity point from seeing the mangled bodies and broken wagons, and on searching the area the find the people of the caravan were apparently wealthy merchants and a few guards, murdered by black-fletched arrows. A successful Search test nets the PCs a left-behind shield and a couple crossbow bolts, but nothing else. A successful Common Lore (The Empire)-10 nets them the information that this was goblin work. While they're doing all this, Granny sees an old, faded sign saying this crossroads is near the town of Fahndorf, and reflects that her family died in that town, killed by the Graf Strenhauser's men for trying to avoid his taxes. Given that incident is what led to the people of Fahndorf leaving and founding Untergard 100 years ago...this is intended to be the moment the PCs put two and two together and realize something is seriously wrong with Granny (hey look the elves were right). Before they can do anything with this information (assuming they figure it out), there's a thump from the ambush site and Father Dietrich vanishes from view. When the PCs (probably) rush to his side, they find he stumbled on a goblin pit trap while blessing the corpses and he's currently impaled on sharpened stakes and mortally wounded. He presses a small painting into their hands and begs them to make sure it gets to High Capitular Werner Stolze in Middenheim, saying it's an important holy relic. This exists entirely to be a macguffin for the next published adventure and has nothing to do with this one's plot. The book then suggests making the players nervous about possible future goblin attack, but that no goblin attack is coming and you should 'make them make Perception rolls just to scare then'
I want to find every adventure author who has ever made that suggestion and rub their noses in it. This is bullshit of the highest order: I've just talked about (and the GAME ITSELF TALKED ABOUT, back in the GMing chapter) how rolls should only be for consequential situations, and here it's pulling the old, stupid GMing trick of fake perception tests. No no no! It also suggests making sure the PCs make arrangements against goblins that aren't coming, etc. This is not a replacement for actual gameplay or tension!
When the caravan next stops, a couple days out from Middenheim, the game notes the PCs might be 'suspicious' of Granny by this point and expects they'll be watching her. If they do, they make a Perception -10 test to see if they notice a raven leaving her tent shortly before she's noted as missing. If they don't, some of the orphans notice she's missing and panic, crying for Granny, and can report the raven and oh goddamnit look another test that doesn't actually matter. The orphans also report she was crying after coming near Fahndorf and talking about 'what's power if you don't use it', and the PCs will find she left a note in her wagon. The note is a message from Granny apologizing to the Captain for leaving the children, but saying she goes to settle her debt with the Sternhauser family and that she is willing to pay the price for it. Granny has decided that now is the time to use a forbidden spell she happened to have to summon a 'spirit of vengeance' (Chaos Demon) and send it after the cowardly Graf of Grimminhagen. The book has all sorts of ways to cajole the PCs to head to the ruins of Fahndorf and confront her, and hilariously notes one of the reasons they might be unwilling is because they fear a goblin attack on the caravan due to all those fake perception tests earlier. If the PCs refuse to investigate, they miss the conclusion of the adventure and lose some EXP at the end. If they go, they get to actually do something for once.
The PCs arrive to see the crazy witch has built a massive bonfire on the outskirts of the old town, and that she's protected by dark wolves controlled by her beast magic. They have 3 rounds to stop her before she finishes her work and summons a demon, and there's one wolf per PC if they try to just fight through. They can try to distract or reason with her enough to make her pause and fail the ritual, try to douse the fire, or kill her. There is an insistence that any diplomatic solution not 'involve dice' but rather what the diplomat decides to say, because we haven't had enough bad old-school design in this adventure already. Other than that, this part of the encounter is actually pretty decent: There are some good, broad solutions available, a clear threat, and some clear stakes that some awful stuff is going to happen if they don't stop Granny. The annoying part is if the spell succeeds, things turn to a cutscene instantly as the fiery, winged demon appears and then immediately flies off to destroy the Sternhauser castle and kill everyone inside, despite being a Lesser Demon. A starting party, for reference, can pretty easily kill a lesser demon in open combat. I'd have preferred the option for a dangerous but doable early boss fight if the heroes fail to stop the rite but wish to intervene bravely. Whatever happens, either the ritual faltering will kill Granny or the players will; all that matters is if an offscreen NPC and his family get murdered by a minor demon summoned by a crazy old witch.
After that, we're back to cutscene as they reach the damaged city of Middenheim safely, with the rest of the refugees in tow. That's it. That's the ending. If they succeeded, they get 175 EXP for the first adventure, and if they failed, 125. So to sum up: The players have one very easy intro fight early, do a bunch of stuff that doesn't affect anything, watch a couple NPCs do things, and then have one actual confrontation that doesn't affect anything they really care about. This adventure is really not a good introduction to one of my favorite RPG settings. It's full of rolls for the sake of rolls, and there's never actually any peril that afflicts the convoy despite that being the premise of the adventure; it's all about some old grudge by an ancient witch that has nothing to do with the PCs.
Next Time: North, West, or East? We start on the sourcebooks, once I decide on Realm of the Ice Queen (Kislev), Knights of the Grail (Bretonnia), or Night's Dark Masters (Vampires, Sylvania!) next!
Meanwhile, in Warhammer
The majority of Hunters of the dead are independent operators. Men and women who lost something precious to a terrible, beautiful moving corpse and who have vowed to put the damn things back in the ground, where they belong. Most of them will die facing their first vampire. Those who do not can become terrifyingly talented, to the point of gaining a degree of notoriety among their targets. They all face an uphill battle, though; vampires are superhumanly strong, extremely hard to kill, what they're vulnerable to varies on an individual basis, and information about undeath and necromancy tends to be tightly controlled by the state. A Hunter needs to research, observe, and ambush to have any chance of victory; it's no accident that the skillset for the Vampire Hunter career overlaps a great deal with the skills of a tomb robber, an assassin, and an academic as well as a warrior. Independents tend to congregate in Ostermark or Stirland, close to the dark country of Sylvania, where the taverns are full of folk in dark clothing with strange equipment whispering to each other about how best to kill something that's already dead.
Some Hunters aren't alone, of course. The church of Morr despises undeath in all its forms, but normally limits its efforts to guarding the graveyards of the Old World. Some lay folk, radical priests, and Templars believe they have a greater duty and have formed the Fellowship of the Shroud to try to bring the fight to the doorstep of Sylvania. They not only scout and plan for the day when the Empire will retake Sylvania from the vampiric Von Carsteins, they also sponsor scholars and investigators throughout the cities of the Empire to search for signs of the undead hiding among the population. If you want to play the 16th century version of Dr. Van Hellsing, they offer their own special Career, the Agent of the Shroud. Acting like a cross between a spy, a doctor, and a student, these investigators quietly comb the cities and cemeteries to ferret out the conspiracies and depredations of the dead. The Fellowship are considered radicals by the cult's leadership, though, particularly for taking action beyond that sanctioned by cult leadership and for their insistence that the cult consider sanctioning cremations to prevent undead from finding ready sources of minions.
There is also the Tsarovitch Pavel Society, a group of nobles dedicated to the memory of an embarrassing episode in Kislev's history. You see, Kislev is used to occasionally being ruled by Khan Queens of great magical power, pale ladies who force the Boyars to do their will for the good of the state. Well, once, Kislev was taken over by a Vampire Tsarina and the country assumed she was essentially the same thing for decades. Only when the Boyars realized she wasn't aging did they become concerned; after all, if she never died, how could their families ever come to power in the next generation? Thus, on the objection of lack of succession policy, the great Tsar Pavel managed to get enough of his fellows to cease their squabbles and stake the Tsarina. Now, in both the Empire and Kislev, nobles join the Tsarovitch Pavel Society in secret to try to cleanse their bloodlines of vampiric taint in the name of making sure lines of succession don't get all muddied up by some pale gentlewoman who keeps vanishing for a month or two every twenty years then coming back and claiming to be her own daughter. Can't have that sort of mess in the family tree.
Finally, there are the Advanti, warriors and priests of Myrmidia and Morr from Estalia who have established a line dating back to the Wars of Blood, when not-spain was invaded by a great host of the dead and only narrowly saved by the direct intervention of Myrmidia. I'm afraid there isn't as much to say about them; the book doesn't give much detail, just that they tend to form the bulk of Estalian and Tilean hunters.
Next: An account of what a reasonably experienced Hunter would know, from their own perspective, in chapter 2: The Mockery of Life.