Let’s get one thing straight: I love Warhammer. I started with Warhammer 40,000 in my freshman year of high school, then was dragged into Warhammer Fantasy Battles before graduation. I left the hobby behind for years because I was broke (J/K! Still am!). As an adult I picked up roleplaying games. Needless to say, I was pretty stoked when I realized the newest edition of Warhammer Fantasy R
oleplay was in development and the game went to the top of my “must play” list, along with many others who are craving Old World action (RIP WFB). Now that the game is here, does it live it to the expectations and standards of 30 years of WFRP history?
Full disclosure: I was provided with a copy of the PDF for review purposes.
Combat in WFRP is quick, narrative, and brutal. Cubicle 7 managed to tweak the typically slow pace of combat that is usually found in BRP games by adding in the advantage system. Attack rolls are always opposed and the winner is determined by who rolls the furthest under (or least over!) their melee skill. If the attacker wins, they hit and gain a cumulative +10% on their combat rolls; if the defender wins, they gain advantage. Whoever loses the roll also loses advantage. It’s also totally possible to crit will losing a roll, even if you’re defending, or fumble while succeeding; something that appeals to the black comedy inherent in the setting.
It’s also pretty easy to knock characters down or kill them. In our second game, our party’s Apprentice Wizard lost half of his wounds to a single wolf bite. The following session, he was dropped to zero in two hits and nearly bled out. Thankfully PCs have resources at their disposal to keep themselves from dying on their first few adventures. Fate, fortune, resolve, and resilience allow PCs to avoid death, cancel out conditions like bleeding, prevent mutations (for now…) or possibly avoid the effects of critical hits. Crits don’t just do extra damage, they can maim or kill your character. You may not die, but have fun walking around without your left foot.
Careers have been in WFRP since the game began in the 1980s, but they’ve been reimagined for the new edition. Career paths have been unified (it’s now easier to make it from an Interrogator to Witchfinder General) and lumped together in classes, which is mostly arrangement by theme. The list of careers is broad and varied. It’s possible to play anything from a Rat Catcher to a Noble, River Warden to Investigator. The careers can lead to some interesting parties. If you choose randomly, something encouraged by the game through bonus experience, you can wind up with a party that has a Scholar, a Witch, a Witch Hunter, and a Servant. That’s pretty diverse, but it can lead to narrative issues. Why is a servant out adventuring? And let’s hope the Witch Hunter doesn’t find out about the Witch! Careers can be changed through spending experience, allowing players to make the characters they really want to play, and allowing them to pick up skills and talents they can’t advance through their current skills. GMs are also encouraged to change PC careers based on narrative. On the lam? Now you’re all Outlaws. Did the Wizard start messing with dark magic? I guess he’s a Witch now.
Seeing as the setting is based on Renaissance Germany, it not terribly surprising to see class and status show up in the game. Status influences how much money you can earn between adventures (remember, they’re careers, not classes), and how you interact with others; it’s a bit tougher to for a beggar to intimidate a merchant than it would be for a noble. It feels like a gritty, grimdark world where the rich feast and the poor pick up the scraps.
4) So Many Things To Keep Track Of
There’s a lot going on in this game and a lot to keep track of. Characters have to think about where their armour is covering them, how many fate, fortune, resilience and resolve points they have, lingering wounds from critical hits, whether or not there’s an infection from those wounds, and corruption from Chaotic influences. All of this on top of the encumbrance packed on their backs. It can be overwhelming. Fortunately there are a ton of optional rules to reduce the amount bookkeeping, simplifying armour points, and reminding the GM they can ignore encumbrance as they see fit. But out of the box the game gives you a lot of to keep track of, especially between adventures.
I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting to find a game full of inclusivity, and I didn’t. Well, not entirely. There were a few pleasant surprises. For starters, there are no “races”. Instead they have been rebranded as species which is a welcome change and way more accurate. They also explicitly state that regardless of the name of the career, it’s open to everyone. Yes, we all know that anyone can be a “Townsman”, but it’s nice to see it in writing. It’s also nice to see at least a couple of careers with female-gendered titles. Seeing Nun instead of Monk, and Riverwoman was a pleasant surprise. It is about a fifty/fifty split between male and female career examples (at least until they get to the soldiers). There’s also a surprising amount of people of color displayed. That was one of the biggest surprises. Not to say there is equal representation (it’s still overwhelmingly white), but seeing a black man as a Noble was a treat. It should also be said that ethnic diversity in the setting is something that hasn’t been well communicated from Games Workshop or other IP holders to consumers (myself included). The Empire, especially in the east, has a wide array of skin-tones and isn’t the pasty Germanic nation that I previously thought it was.
That’s not to say that representation is perfect. As I’ve said before, it’s overwhelmingly white and gender representation slips. There’s also the nagging lore bits that type-cast non-human species. Dwarfs hang on to grudges, High Elves are aloof, Halflings like to eat, and Wood Elves are wild and xenophobic. There are “good” and “bad” species. There’s a ton of intolerance too. Xenophobia, sex-negativity (thanks Slaanesh), and a deeply ingrained fear of the different are baked into the setting. But I suppose it wouldn’t be grimdark, and therefore Warhammer, if it wasn’t there.
6) Organization and Clarity
The book can be a bit scattershot and unclear. There are places where one would expect to find particular rules, but they aren’t there, or you have to go searching for a trail of breadcrumbs to find the appropriate rules. As an example, the rules for Size begin in the combat section, but are more fully fleshed out in the Bestiary section. This isn’t too unreasonable, but the specific rules for how size affect damage (Damaging and Impact) are found in the weapons rules. One would also expect to find Injuries and Critical Wounds immediately after determining damage, but they’re preceded by movement, conditions, and Fate and Resilience. None of this is to say that the organization lacks logic, but it could use improvement.
Where the editorial team did fail, however, was clarity. The book lacks clear examples of how rules work in actual play, and can be contradictory at times. It would’ve been really nice to have at least one example of how combat actually plays out or how to build enough advantage to cast a tough spell. There are also rules that could be a bit clearer. The worst example is on off-hand penalties for defending. At one point the rules seem to indicate that the penalty only applies on attacks, but weapons in the parry group ignore that penalty. Overall, there is nothing so egregious that a well written and thought out FAQ and Errata couldn’t fix, but it’s disappointing that the book requires on at all.
Despite the fiddly bits and lack of clarity, this game is fantastic. Veteran gamers can grok it in a session, though newcomers might take a little more time. It’s worth it, because when they pick it up combat flies by and turns into the lethal character grinder that veteran WFRP players expect. If gritty and lethal isn’t your thing, this isn’t the game for you. But if you’re a fan of the Old World, or want to keep get a little dirtier than your favorite game, pick up the new edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay here.
Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
© Games Workshop 2018
Welcome back to the Ravenloft Corner!
Veteran gamers are familiar with the horrible dread that accompanies every sudden fog, knowing it could whisk them away from their comfortable campaign setting and into the nightmare that is Ravenloft. This is far from an isolated event, of course: most of the iconic NPCs of the setting are drawn from one or more existing campaign worlds, including Darklords such as Soth, Harkon Lukas, and Hazlik. Faerun, Greyhawk, al-Qadim, Dragonlance, Birthright: all these realms and more have been harvested for human occupants to bring to the Demiplane of Dread.
However, the Mists are not limited to D&D settings--they can reach anywhere. This makes Ravenloft the ideal realm for crossover stories. The sinister possibilities are endless. Jedi, gunslingers, or mad scientists: the sky's the limit if you really want to bring elements from one game setting into your Ravenloft campaign.
Alternately, instead of bringing another game into Ravenloft, you can introduce Ravenloft to another setting. Back in the day, being snatched away to the Demiplane of Dread for a single adventure was a common enough occurrence that it even had a name: Weekend in Hell adventures. For many other tabletop RPGs, this type of adventure can be just the thing to break up a stale routine.
To get you started, here are a few of my favorite possibilities for locations that you could bring an NPC or two from without breaking the setting egregiously.
1 -Star Wars
While lightsabers and blasters would be horrendously out of place, a single force-user would not be. Imagine the horror for a Jedi who escaped Order 66 only to find himself consumed by a bizarre stellar phenomenon which spat him out in Ravenloft. Now alone, in a world without the technology to which he is accustomed, he must battle against strange and arcane threats, with the inescapable feeling that this entire realm throbs with the pulse of the Dark Side. He can always sense malignant beings pulling the strings behind seemingly mundane misfortunes, but can never quite pin down their presence. Of course, the Dark Side would be much easier to tap into in Ravenloft, presenting him with an eternal temptation of vast power in exchange for his allegiance.
2- Doctor Who
Although all the Time Lords in our universe are gone (save for a couple), there were many at one point. As a race with a penchant for getting themselves stuck in pocket dimensions or alternate universes, it's not inconceivable one of them could have made it to Ravenloft. (It seems quite likely that at least one of House's victims might have had the wherewithal to fashion some means to escape House's pocket dimension, albeit to the even-less-inviting environment of the Mists.) Stuck with only the technology of the era, such a being might embody the nobler instincts of their kind, traveling the domains and righting wrongs. Of course, they might also fall prey to the obsession and hubris that frequently grips their race, drifting towards Mordent and the possibility of finding a way home amid the 'new science' of Dr. Mordenheim.
3- World of Darkness
Even without the Mists capturing someone against their will, the World of Darkness has plenty of ways for an unwitting character to find their way to Ravenloft. The Deep Umbra, the Far Realms, and arcane accidents of any variety could land a character in the setting. Characters from Vampire: The Dark Ages or Werewolf: The Wild West wouldn't even find themselves horribly out of place. Many tradition mages or changelings would be right at home as well. A pack of werewolves would have the fight of their lives in Verbrek, where virtually every inhabitant is fighting on the same level as they are. On the other hand, how much more dangerous would Strahd be while served by a small clan of Revenants, their own innate disciplines augmented by his potent blood?
Another setting with many gateways to alternate settings (crossovers with Call of Cthulu and Werewolf aren't just possible, they're canon adventures), posses from the Weird West could easily find their way to Ravenloft. Perhaps they even discover some dark connection between the Dark Powers and the Reckoners? Although their technology might be a bit out of place in, say, Darkon, the firearms of the period aren't so odd as to be fantastical to those of the western core. To fit with the diabolical nature of the realm, of course, 'black' magic such as hexes, mad science, and the undead abilities of the Harrowed should be more potent than normal, with the concurrent penalty of attention from the Dark Powers. Maybe it's even more likely to come back as Harrowed, if not so easy to maintain Dominion...
5- Harry Potter
Let's face it, magical accidents are obscenely common in the world of Harry Potter. Fortunately, magical denizens of that realm will find Ravenloft to be no huge adjustment. The need to hide themselves from non-magical beings will already be second nature, but the existence of the supernatural will be as well. In many ways, these witches or wizards might have an easier time blending in than outlanders from standard D&D settings do!
6- Warhammer 40k
While this one might seem unusual for such a high-sci-fi setting, it's actually fairly easy. Remember that the many worlds in the Imperium have a huge technological spectrum, broader even than that in Ravenloft. Characters from low-tech worlds (Inquisitorial retinues or Imperial Guard conscripts) make the easiest possibilities, since they are already ready to accept magic as fact, and are perfectly willing to accept having been pulled through a warp storm into a demon world with belief (although maybe not much happiness). The immensely powerful psychics of the Eldar race might send a single advance scout through a forgotten Webway gate, hoping to find a new location to colonize. Of course, such a scout could never report back and would be stranded in this strange new world. Perhaps most frightening is the notion of a transpossession victim manifesting not the aura of a succubus or the spikes of an osyluth, but the weeping sores of a plaguebearer or the mind-numbing allure of a keeper of secrets.
The world of the Mayhem game system bears much in common with Ravenloft and other D&D settings: there is a general medieval feel, the presence of magical beings, and a general lack of advanced technology. The Crimson Realms, as they are known, are far more open about their strangeness than other settings and Outlanders from that world would face several challenges. The bestial races would have to conceal their true nature, or be mistaken for escapees from the clutches of Frantisek Markov. The demonic and celestial races would be pursued diligently by hunters familiar with transpossession, or by Darklords, respectively. Even the fae or elemental races would find persecution in places like Darkon or Tepest.
That's far from an exhaustive list, of course. Crossover potential is ripe in some of the best known franchises of nerd culture, such as Game of Thrones, Wheel of Time, the Dark Tower series, or Middle Earth, as well as some more obscure ones that your PCs might not be familiar with, such as John Peel's Diadem series or the worlds of Robin Hobb. Whether you draw PCs or NPCs from such realms, crossovers remain an integral part of the Ravenloft formula, and the Weekend in Hell will remain a constant threat to PCs in any and every other game.
Hopefully, Frankie Drakeson will be back from his sabbatical next month, but until then, safe travels.
Jim Stearns is a deranged hermit from the swamps of Southern Illinois. In addition to writing for the Black Library, he puts pen to paper for High Level Games and Keep on the Heathlands. His mad scribblings can frequently be found in Quoth the Raven, as well as anthologies like Fitting In or Selfies from the End of the World, by Mad Scientist Journal. Follow him on Twitter @jcstearnswriter.
All blog materials created and developed by the staff here at High Level Games