Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: A Grim World of Perilous Adventure (March 2005)
The core book of the new edition, and the first one in which the authors had to confront the problem of reconciling WHFRP circa 1985 with Warhammer Fantasy Battle circa 2005. In particular, they had to deal with the fallout of 'the Storm of Chaos', a 2004 Warhammer event which involved the Empire being invaded by a giant army of chaos warriors. The moment WHFRP 2nd edition accepted the Storm of Chaos as canon - presumably under instruction from Games Workshop - it set itself apart from some important elements of the earlier edition. No longer could chaos be something subtle and hidden, like the Mythos in Call of Cthulhu, something that most people could forget about or live in ignorance of or only half believe in. For a citizen of the Empire to not believe in the chaos gods after the Storm of Chaos would be like a Russian not believing in Germans circa 1946.
|The Storm of Chaos, busy storming... something... (Maybe Middenheim? I'm gonna say Middenheim.)|
The core of the system - careers, percentile roles, fate points, insanity points, etc - remains intact, though some of the more unnecessary stats have been merged together. Careers still tend towards low-lives, and indeed many of the newly added careers - bonepicker, camp follower, charcoal burner - tilt the balance even further towards the lowest of the low, though some of the weirdest and most colourful first edition careers, like Bawd and Raconteur, have disappeared. Careers are also more international than in first edition, with minor chances of PCs being a 'Kislevite Kossar', 'Norse Berserker', or 'Estalian Diestro' rather than an Imperial citizen. (Whether the addition of three national stereotypes - Russian cossack, Viking berserker, Spanish duellist - represents an actual improvement is another matter.) Skills and talents have been differentiated from each other, and skills can now be taken more than once, though many of the weirder first edition skills - Clown, Embezzlement, Numismatics - have been cut. The combat system is largely unchanged, though I was somewhat sad to see that the infamous first edition critical hit tables have been toned down a bit. Back in my first edition days, my players got so familiar with the tables that they used to chant in unison the magic words: 'Death-from-shock-and-blood-loss-is-IN-STAN-TAN-E-OUS!
The magic system is heavily changed, ditching the old 'magic point' system, and incorporating the 'eight colleges of magic' from Warhammer Fantasy Battle. This gives it a more interesting spell list than the original, which was mostly cribbed from D&D, but at the cost of another concession to high fantasy, with the Empire now apparently maintaining eight different colleges of colour-coded battle wizards. Each religion also gets its own spell list, and Sigmar has been upgraded from a mere 'lesser deity' into the most significant divinity in the setting. Malal and the Gods of Law seem to have disappeared between editions. Magic items have been cut almost entirely - so no more street thugs wearing enchanted Boots of Bovva! This is followed by a very brief introduction to the nations and races of the Old World, a short bestiary - nineteen entries, compared to 110 (!) in the original - and an introductory adventure which is little more than a single encounter swathed in ten pages of needless padding.
|2nd edition career illustrations.|
There's nothing wrong with WHFRP 2nd edition, exactly, and its core system looks cleaner and more functional than that of 1st edition. It's not a complete game in the same way as its predecessor - the bestiary and setting information, in particular, are so obviously incomplete that they act as little more than teasers for The Old World Bestiary and Sigmar's Heirs, both of which were published a few months later - but that's just how RPGs tended to be published at the time. (How else were you going to get people hooked on the supplement treadmill?) But if it had appeared first, it's impossible to imagine it having the same impact as the original.
One big problem is the replacement of vivid and specific material with vague and general substitutes. Here, for example, is the top-level critical hit result from the 'Arm' location in 1st edition:
Your blow smashes through the arm and into the chest, caving in one side of the ribcage. The arm is completely destroyed, and blood showers yourself and your opponent. Your opponent collapses dying almost instantly from shock and blood loss.Here's its uselessly vague counterpart from 2nd edition:
Killed in whatever spectacular and gore-drenched fashion the player or GM cares to describe.The same retreat into blandness keeps recurring everywhere, with the arguable exception of the magic system. The edge of vivid craziness is gone from the lists of skills and careers: the second edition just won't let you randomly roll up a super-numerate travelling hypnotist who is also an amateur cryptographer, or a dancing beggar with a natural talent for bribery. The fact that WHFRP 1st edition included skills for begging, bribery, public speaking, street fighting, and embezzlement communicated a huge amount about the kind of world it was set in, and their disappearance from 2nd edition is not a trivial loss. All the weirdest stuff from the bestiary chapter - the fimir, the death elementals, the Daemons of Law - is gone, never to return in second edition. And the art, needless to say, is greatly inferior to the original.
|1st edition chaos demon.|
A second issue is the altered tone of the setting. WHFRP 1st edition presents a world that is in some ways quite an optimistic place, at least from an Imperial perspective: there's a renaissance underway, humans have discovered gunpowder and the printing press, the New World is being colonised and looted, and there hasn't been a major chaos incursion for two hundred years. But it's also a world which is dangerously complacent, with no-one understanding how much of a threat chaos really is, or realising just how many chaos cults are operating in the shadows, or how soon the chaos warbands may begin the long march south. As the book puts it:
Within the cities of the Old World, and in the unholy groves of the deep forest, decadent humans honour the foul Gods of Chaos. To the majority of humans such things remain a mystery, and few imagine the perils posed by their own kin.Well, they're not much of a mystery in WHFRP 2nd edition, let me tell you. Chaos has gone from being a hidden threat in the darkness - 'underneath the deepest sewers and culverts, the doom of Chaos gnaws at the bowels of civilisation' - to an overt enemy which everyone is openly fighting all the time, and apparently have been for the whole of history. The result is to turn the Old World, with its distinctive mixture of Renaissance optimism and self-destructive decadence, into something much closer to Generic Sub-Tolkien Fantasy Land, with the embattled forces of Team Good struggling to hold the line against the wicked armies of Team Evil.
Finally, the sample adventure is pretty weak even on its own terms, but looks even worse when placed next to the sample adventure from first edition, 'The Oldenhaller Contract'. The rest of the line would go on to make painfully clear that, whatever their other talents, the second edition's authors had no idea how to write RPG scenarios. Their idea of an 'adventure' was straightforward railroad from one pre-scripted scene to the next, with player agency kept to an absolute minimum. Quite why they thought this when they must have had branching adventures like 'The Oldenhaller Contract' right in front of them is unclear to me. I can only assume that they'd absorbed some very bad GMing advice over the course of the 1990s, and thought that their wretched scene-based railroads represented a genuine improvement over the adventure design of the 1980s, possibly because they had 'stronger stories'.
|Image from 'The Oldenhaller Contract'. Now that's how you use a railroad in an adventure!|