Friday, 14 September 2018

Bringing Down the Hammer, part 7: Terror in Talabheim, Tome of Corruption

More than halfway through, now!


Terror in Talabheim (July 2006)


Image result for terror in talabheim

The fifth book in the 'location plus adventure' series that started with Ashes of Middenheim. This one is about Talabheim, which I don't remember ever being described in any detail for first edition. Fantasy cities often take just one theme and run with it: so Altdorf is The Great Capital City, Middenheim is The Rugged City on the Rock, Nuln is The Rich And Filthy City of Industry, and so on. Talabheim is interesting in that is has three different themes going on: it's a city in a forest (and thus full of druids and woodsmen), and a city of laws (and thus full of lawyers and prisons), and a city built inside a giant crater (and thus full of paupers living in cavern-homes dug into the rock and smugglers carrying goods through hidden tunnels). Its the kind of combination of traits that is often found in real and historical cities, but is much rarer in their fictional counterparts, which tend to be much more one-note. At 29 pages the city write-up is needlessly lengthy, and many parts of it are very similar to the equivalent sections from the books on Middenheim, Altdorf, and Nuln: apparently all Imperial cities have a filthy and lawless slum district, a temple district with one temple per god, giant fortifications with cannons on them, unmapped mazes of tunnels beneath the city streets, etc. It's still a pretty colourful location, though, and one I can easily imagine using in a game.

The adventure that follows is weird. The best way I can describe it is that it's written like a movie: this is the bit where the PCs escort some refugees, this is the bit where they're stuck inside a quarantined town during a plague, this is the bit where they're conscripted into the city watch, this is the bit where they try and fail to prevent a skaven invasion of the city, this is the bit where they organise a resistance movement against the skaven occupation, etc. They're often given a fair bit of freedom about what they do within each of those situations, but the module is very heavy-handed about forcing them from one to another, even though the prescribed path involves all three of the things that PCs usually hate most: being forced to stay in a location which they can't leave, being forced to join an organisation and obey NPCs, and being forced to participate in a battle they can't win. It keeps passive-aggressively insisting that technically the PCs can try to do something else, but if they do then everyone hates them and totally forces them back on track on pain of death.

Over and over again, the module casts the PCs as passive observers rather than active agents. While they're escorting the refugees, some of them are murdered in the night, and what the PCs do about it is up to them... but the idea that the PCs might have been keeping watch over their charges during the night, and actively intervened to prevent the murders, doesn't seem to have occured to the authors. At one point a mob of refugees try to force their way into Talabheim, and get blown to bits by cannons, and any PCs who see this have a chance of gaining an insanity point... but what if the PCs intervene, and persuade the mob not to attack the city? What if they come up with a different plan? What if they decide to lead the mob - does that mean they all get blown up, too? There's an appealing gutsiness to how thoroughly the adventure trashes its setting, but the way in which it forces the PCs from set-piece to set-piece is very clumsy, and its attempts to turn the clock back at the end - 'everything gets rebuilt and everyone forgets!' - are just embarrassing.

Now for some speculation. When I first read the Pathfinder adventure path Curse of the Crimson Throne, my first thought was: 'this is a rewrite of someone's WFRP adventure'. (The temple full of Nurgle Urgathoa cultists with a leader that turns into a chaos spawn Daughter of Urgathoa was the real giveaway.) Now that I've read this adventure, which features many of the same elements - a city stricken by an artificial plague, plague cultists, a crazy necromancer unleashing undead in the middle of a disease outbreak, ratmen in the sewers, the PCs organising a resistance movement against a brutal occupation - I suspect that Curse of the Crimson Throne was at least partly inspired by Terror in Talabheim, which had been published just two years earlier. I think Curse handles the material more successfully, though. My condensed version of it is available here.

Tome of Corruption (October 2006)


Image result for tome of corruption

This is the 2nd edition chaos book, and thus the successor to the 1st edition Realm of Chaos sourcebooks. The Realm of Chaos books are classics of Games Workshop's golden age, but from a WFRP perspective they're rather odd beasts, as they were produced during the years when the company was turning away from RPGs and towards the more profitable tabletop wargaming market. As such their primary focus is on providing rules for playing chaos warbands in WFB and 40K, with only occasional concessions to the role-playing game.

The original Realm of Chaos books are classics because they're crazy. The creative energy is off the charts. Windmills grind cargoes of corpses. Deformed human faces grow from trees. A cowled figure blocks the way to the Inevitable City. A flying castle drifts through the air, scattering tattered scraps of flags across the land below. Nightmare horsemen made from heaving masses of worms burst from the graves of plague victims. In doomed villages, the demons of Nurgle dance, singing, through the streets. ('The flies! The flies! His eyes! His eyes! Before the Burgomaster dies!') Every page just throws so much stuff at you, as though the writers and artists had so many ideas that they were struggling to fit them all into the space available. The Tome of Corruption can't match that, and for the most part it doesn't even try.

The main thing that struck me about the version of chaos presented here is how much less, well, chaotic it was than the old one. The nature of chaos is much more clearly defined here, as is its relationship with magic, the gods, and human belief. The four major chaos gods are now the chaos gods, rather than just four examples with the suggestion for you to design your own if you feel like it, and even they have lost some of their old complexity: there's no suggestion here that Nurgle, for example, embodies both 'the hidden fear of disease and decay' and 'the power of life which that fear generates', which is how he was described in his much more nuanced and sympathetic write-up in The Lost and the Damned. Mutants are now doomed to just carry on mutating until they ultimately devolve into chaos spawn, which greatly reduces the moral complexity of the setting by confirming that the Empire's continual anti-mutant pogrom is actually more-or-less justified. (1st edition more closely followed its 2000 AD inspirations in showing that at least some mutants were weird but harmless, and certainly not deserving of being burned alive.) The Chaos Wastes described here don't come close to the baroque insanity of their first edition counterparts. (The lack of Ian Miller's illustrations is keenly felt.) In 1st edition, the chaos armour worn by champions of Khorne was forged in red furnaces beneath the throne of the Blood God, where captive seers laboured eternally to create enchanted armaments in fires fuelled by burning souls. In 2nd edition, they just buy it off the chaos dwarves. Something of their unholy majesty appears to have been lost along the way.

Image result for ian miller realm of chaos
Now that's the Realm of Chaos!

As well as cultists, mutants, demons, and beastmen, The Tome of Corruption also details other followers of chaos who have never previously appeared in WFRP: the Norscans, the Chaos Dwarves, the Kurgan, and the Hung. For the poor old Norscans this is quite a demotion, as in 1st edition they were described as allies of the empire and enemies of chaos. Given the setting's 17th-century flavour I imagined them as stalwart Gustavus Aldophus types, grimly holding the line in the far north: but The Tome of Corruption describes them instead as straightforward chaos vikings, complete with a culture straight out of the Dark Ages. [Edit: Nirkhuz points out that this was wishful thinking on my part, and that they've always been medieval Vikings. I'd still note that they've gone from being enemies to chaos to servants of it.] The Chaos Dwarves are fine, though they're dealt with very briefly. The Kurgan are bloodthirsty chaos-worshiping Proud Warrior Race guys based on the peoples of the Eurasian steppe (and, let's be honest, on the villain from Highlander), which kinda travesties the actual cultures they're inspired by, but is probably pretty close to the way they were regarded in Europe: the Mongols weren't called the Devil's Horsemen for nothing. But the Hung... good grief, the Hung. They're a race of humans based on the steppe nomads (the Huns, most obviously), who are described as being sly, greedy, treacherous, ugly, cruel, filthy, demon-worshipping cannibal rapists. They are apparently so utterly awful as to be unsuitable as PCs even in games where all the PCs are chaos cultists, because 'their essential character is one of betrayal and treachery'. (Not because of any kind of supernatural curse, you understand: simply because they're just that horrible.) I found this much more objectionable than the one-dimensional depiction of the Kurgan or the national stereotyping of the Norse as Vikings, especially as the ways in which the Hung are described overlap so heavily with the ways in which the steppe nomads have historically been dehumanised by surrounding sedentary populations in order to justify their exploitation and/or extermination. I mean, I'm sure they were just going for a generic 'degenerate tribe' set-up, but still...

The book does have some strengths. The discussion of cults makes clear that most chaos cultists don't actually know they're chaos cultists, which is a definite advance on the near-mindless drones of evil that such cultists tend to be portrayed as in many WFRP adventures. The section on beastmen features a description of what I've come to think of as the 'big Empire' interpretation of the WFRP setting, in which the Imperial government only actually controls a fraction of the land within its borders, as between the pockets of arable land and the roads that connect them lie vast unmapped forests full of weird monsters and isolated settlements cut off from the world outside: a very different version of the Empire to the 'small Empire' interpretation in Heirs of Sigmar, and one that I find much more imaginatively compelling. The new version of the famous d1000 mutation table has even more stuff on it than the original, allowing you to introduce your players to heaping helpings of body horror with just a few rolls of the dice. Overall, though, I strongly prefer the version of chaos (and the version of Norsca) presented in the original edition.

23 comments:

  1. I must discuss you the Norscan thing. The norscan army of Warhammer 3rd edition were vikings and the Warhammer RPG 1st edition clearly says that norscan are vikings. If you go to the 'humans' entry of the bestiary this is what is said about norscans:

    'Norsemen live in the Northlands, or Norsca, upon the northern borders of the Old World. They are seafaring, warlike and feudal people, somewhat like the early medieval Vikings. They share their barren, rocky and undesirable homeland with the Norse Dwarfs...'

    And the norse dwarfs were also 'viking dwarfs'. So, norses were vikings back there and always have been vikings. The Tome of Corruption just made them more 'chaos tainted'. Some tribes are clearly evil chaos worshippers and other are more 'neutral' and 'gameable'.

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    1. Thanks for this. The Norsca write-up in the WFRP 1st edition world guide is more ambiguous:

      'Lying just to the north of the Old World, it has much in common with that land, although Old Worlders tend to regard its inhabitants as uncivilised barbarians. Nevertheless, during the last Incursion of Chaos (some 200 years ago), the Norse proved indomitable allies.

      Norsca is populated mainly by humans - the fierce and warlike Norse. They share their barren land with the hardy Norse Dwarves who wage a constant running battle against the hosts of a number of underground goblinoid races.'

      But you're quite right that their bestiary entry specifies that they're early medieval vikings. I'll amend my post.

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  2. If you're interested in Warhammer novels, Dan Abnett's "Riders of the Dead" has interesting interpretations of the Kurgans and the Imperial/Kislev alliance that veers much closer to historical fantasy than usual. Half the book is from a Kurgan perspective and he walks a fine line between making them seem like people without directly contradicting the brand - chaos raiders aren't a monoculture, they can be loyal and even kind to their in-group, they don't all know the same things about Chaos (there's a bit where a Tzeentch aligned warband are frightened and disgusted by a Nurgle-aligned one, and most warriors don't actually want to see or know about what their sorcerers get up to), stuff like that. It also downplays the supernatural elements of Chaos, which I think is more effective. Most of the kurgan raiders are just people who are religiously devoted to chaos.

    The Kislevite depictions are kind of a slow deconstruction of their usual Russian stereotype, making good use of an Imperial POV character who doesn't know anything about them. The dialog makes surprisingly good use of accents - characters have varying levels of fluency in Reikspiel, which comes out in the dialog, and in scenes where the Imperial character starts trying to speak their language his dialog is suddenly written in broken English while the formerly accented Kislev characters now speak in perfect unaccented grammar.

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    1. That does sound good. For obvious reasons I'm a bit touchy about portrayals of Central Asian peoples in RPGs, and the description of the steppe people in WFRP 1st edition gave no indication of them being chaos worshippers, so I was a bit dismayed by their 2nd edition depiction. Glad to hear that they (and the Kislevites) were treated sympathetically in the novel!

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    2. And I haven't read any of the Warhammer novels because there are about 300 of them. Though I did enjoy the 1989 edition of 'Drachenfels' back in the day.

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    3. I usually don't have patience for Warhammer novels either, but I like the Abnett ones. As an author he seems much more interested in the lives of regular people than anything else I've seen in Warhammer. Every once in a while you can feel an Abnett novel straining against the canon of the material he's working with, like how early on in Riders of the Dead he has some dialog about how a kurgan is more properly a burial mound and not a chaos warrior, and then re-establishes the scythians as a non-chaos setting element. You do get exoticized depictions of things like chaos warriors practicing cranial deformation or getting high on perfumed seed-pod smoke, but the historical adventure gloss gives them more dignity and specificity than you'd typically see. They may worship demon gods, treat prisoners like cattle and make mounds of skulls to celebrate victories, but they also care a lot about telling the truth and don't bury bows with dead warriors because they're too precious and hard to make to waste. I think the Kislevites are more Polish and Eastern European than central Asian, but the great size and age of the steppe, and how the perspective of people who grew up in it differs from our fantasy German POV character's, is a central theme of the story.

      (Sorry, I just like this book a lot)

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    4. Kislev is mostly Russia with a side-order of Poland (for the winged hussars), but it's described in WFRP 2nd edition as incorporating Central Asian peoples, the Ungols, as well as the pseudo-Russian Gospodars. I'll have more to say about all this when I get to 'Realm of the Ice Queen'.

      And thanks for the recommendation. The book sounds worth checking out, if only to see what someone else has done with fantasy Siberia!

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  3. "showing that at least some mutants were weird but harmless, and certainly not deserving of being burned alive"

    Sigmar knows, mutants are "harmless" until they aren't... Don't listen to the unworldly, lets burn those lost souls. (Manfred, Witch-hunter of Mordheim)

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  4. I think you are harsh on Terror in Talabheim. As soon as you decide to have a skaven scheme and then attack as the epic background, some seemingly railroady elements are justified. The authorities don't want anyone spreading the disease; everyone is signed up for the militia, willingly or no; when your city is overrun with invaders you get to choose where you stand, not whether or not to fight. In the occupation phase, the book has outlines of possible actions, and more detail would have been welcome; possibly a points system for numbers of supplies gained, slave camps liberated, allied gained, with the skaven weaker in the final part the more points gained. As regards the ending, I think that is supposed to represent the usual denial that skaven exist as an organised intelligent species. My group really enjoyed this one, but I needed to pull resources from other works to support the resistance stage.

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    1. OK, but what NPCs want and what PCs actually do are usually two very different things, and the adventure uses some very strong-arm tactics to force the two into alignment. As soon as they hear that the militia are conscripting all able-bodied men, a lot of players are going to instantly start disguising themselves as women, and 'the local criminals automatically see through all your deceptions and force you to join up anyway' is a fairly rubbish way to respond to players attempting to exercise actual agency.

      At heart, I think the module is a classic case of what I've elsewhere called 'Old-school space vs. new-school time':

      http://udan-adan.blogspot.com/2016/11/old-school-space-vs-new-school-time.html

      The module's big problem is that it wants a series of specific things to happen in a specific order. If it would just relax and let them happen if and when they happen, it would be much more player-friendly.

      I'd run it like this: the PCs are trapped in Talabheim during a quarantine. What they do there, and in what order, is up to them: they might investigate the disease, or join the militia, or champion the cause of the refugees trapped in the lower city, or maybe just try to escape. At a certain pre-determined point in the timeline, regardless of what they do or don't do, skaven attack in overwhelming force, and the way they respond is again up to them: stand and fight, run and hide, flee the city entirely, etc. Finally, the city is under skaven occupation, and the PCs have to decide what they want to do about that: organise a resistance movement, seek outside help, play the skaven off against each other, whatever. I think players would accept this because its only act of narrative force majeure - the invasion - is something which they couldn't reasonably expect to be able to affect in any case.

      Glad to hear your group enjoyed it, though. A good GM can make a bad adventure great, just as a bad one can make a good adventure terrible, so it speaks well of your GMing abilities!

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    2. However much the players don't like it, I think referees should enforce logical consequences. In this case, it is reasonable all adults should join the militia, and strenuous efforts made to make sure they do so. Having defined the problem, I like to give the players lots of latitude in how they go about solving it.
      Your rewrite sounds good (although the party might miss out on a couple of PCs contracting the disease, which gives them additional motivation). Indeed I have very much enjoyed your condensed rewrites of Pathfinder adventures; they actually make you keen to play them. I agree Curse of the Crimson Throne seems inspired by Terror in Talabheim, and this is not the only instance: the Council of Thieves Sixfold Trial seems very warhammery, having a play as a central part of the action.

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  5. I think that if you want moral complexity around persecuting mutants, you really need to make the alternative very bad indeed.

    For obvious reasons, players trying to play moral PCs are going to be incredibly averse to burning people who haven't actually done anything wrong; if you don't have "the alternative is that they will inevitably or near-inevitably degenerate, and probably infect others in the process", what you have isn't moral complexity, it's something much more morally analogous to witch-burnings in the real world - i.e. unambiguously bad.

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    1. But if you make them inevitably a bad thing, it isn't much of a moral question either, because there's still a "correct" answer. I think a better way to do it is a compromise - some people are just mutants and are entirely harmless, while some will eventually degenerate into a mindless monster. The question then becomes less "should we burn or not burn all mutants" and more "should we risk keeping mutants alive when they could lead to serious problems, or should we kill a few innocent people to ensure we wipe out any possibility of future corruption".

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    2. Yeah, I think the game suffers if you push it too far either way. Mutants and witches and chaos cultists need to be dangerous *enough* that you understand why people are scared of them and try to surpress them, but not *so* dangerous that even the most extreme terror tactics seem justified in hunting them down. The latter path is especially troublesome, as it's a big part of what has led the Warhammer franchise from something that explicitly satirises fascism to something which is all too often read as actually endorsing it.

      Exactly *where* you put the balance between 'mutants are an innocent minority persecuted by an unjust state' and 'mutants are inherently evil and MUST ALL BURN' is going to vary from one GM to the next, but I do think that it needs to be *somewhere* in the middle, or you lose a lot of the point of the setting.

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  6. There is some tedious virtue signalling going on here. The Huns should be portrayed with sensitivity? Why?

    How is it possible to "stereotype" the Norse as Vikings?

    The Warhammer franchise endorses fascism does it? what are you talking about? This self-righteous vigilance, scrutinizing the inanities of pop culture for wrongthink, is a sickness that needs to be confined to the idiot humanities.

    And shedding tears for monsters is laughable.

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    1. 1) Why single out the poor old Huns? Everyone else gets to be flawed but still human - even their fellow steppe nomads the Ungols, even their fellow chaos worshippers the Norse and the Kurgan. And then we get these guys who are just absolutely awful in every possible way. It's like a game set in fantasy Europe where everyone else is shades of grey, and then it gets to fantasy Germany and suddenly announces 'THE GERMANS ARE ALL CANNIBAL SATANISTS. EVERY SINGLE ONE. YOU CANNOT PLAY THEM BECAUSE THEY ARE JUST TOO HORRIBLE.' Wouldn't that seem a bit odd? And would you really be surprised if German readers were a bit aggrieved by it?

      2) Because the game's set in the 17th century, or a fantasy equivalent thereof. 17th century Scandinavia is a fascinating place in its own right, and one which never gets used in fantasy fiction. It's a bit disappointing to just go straight for Dark Ages Vikings *yet again*, even though they don't really make much sense in context, because they're the only bit of Scandinavian history which anyone remembers. It would be like if the British stand-ins were only ever Victorians, regardless of what the notional setting happened to be.

      3) I don't think it *does* endorse fascism, but the less nuanced its approach to chaos became, the easier it was to read the witch hunters and inquisitors as good guys, and even to fetishise their ruthlessness, which was clearly not the original intent. But you're right to call me out on this, because I'm just going off second-hand rumours about the political leanings of online Warhammer fandom, which I've never actually looked into myself. For all I know the 'fascist 40K fan' is just another internet myth.

      I mean, I'm mostly pretty relaxed about this stuff. I think most people are perfectly well aware of the difference between fantasy and reality, and I think the chance of an RPG book, of all things, making a difference to someone's political outlooks are pretty damn remote. But all the research I've done on Central Asia over the years has made me feel rather protective of it, in much the same way that someone who'd done a lot of research on, say, the Ancient Celts might be dismayed to see them depicted as nothing but frothing bloodthirsty savages. And I've had enough fantasy Vikings to last me a lifetime, so I regret to see a notionally early modern game going back to the same well yet again. Scandinavian history didn't end in 1200 AD!

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  7. 1- Because an RPG world book is neither a moral treatise nor an educational text. Knowing this, slimy sneaky folks still grasp at the opportunity to point their crabbed fingers at infidels, but with the obvious disinterest in and freedom from religion in the West there are no Values and thus no Infidels. WHFRP is a game and its writers have no obligation to be proportionate in their extrapolations for entertainment.

    2- 17th century Scandinavia is NOT fascinating. For two hundred years the Vikings had an extraordinary influence over northern european culture forever changing the British Isles. Beyond the historical effect of the Vikings, the Sagas laid down in the 13th century remain a high point in European literature. The Christianizing of Scandinavia turned it into a backwater.

    3- In the real world there are no *witches* and so witch hunters are insane.

    In a **Fantasy World** where witches are explicitly said to exist along with devils and demons then witch hunters are heros.

    You can't have it both ways just because you want to seize an opportunity to appear sensitive.

    Witches, demons, devils don't exist implies witch hunters are insane.

    Witches, demons, devils do exist implies witch hunters are heros.

    Finally--- I am not calling you out because there is confusion over some dickheads think they are 'fascists' playing an rpg. I am suggesting to you that words like 'fascist' and 'nazi' should not be uttered at all in the absence of extreme coordinated violence. Real violence, not words.

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    1. 1) This is a good question. (Well, it's a statement, but it *raises* a good question.) Given that no actual Huns were harmed in the making of this book, and that anti-Hun racism is unlikely to be a live issue among most Warhammer fans, why does it matter that the book presents its pseudo-Huns as, essentially, orcs? It's prompted me to think carefully about why I reacted negatively to the portrayal of the Hung, and I guess I'd say... the Huns were real, you know? They were crueller than us and tougher than us, but they lived and loved and struggled and died just like everyone else, and they left behind them traces of one more way to be human, one more thing that human life could mean, one more shape that human life could take. To neglect all that in favour of making them subhuman savages, especially in a setting that already has orcs AND goblins AND trolls AND ogres AND beastmen AND minotaurs to fill that niche, seems... lazy, maybe? Wasteful? A missed opportunity to do something more interesting instead?

      To fail to engage with other ways of being human, even in works of entertainment... it lessens us. It narrows our minds. Warhammer has *actual* orcs: it doesn't need human orcs as well. The Huns weren't just orcs; neither were the Goths, or the Celts, or the Aztecs, or the Norsemen, or the Zulus. They had lives that made sense to them from the inside, and an RPG is as good a place to be introduced to them as any, especially as so many people will only have heard about them from the perspective of their enemies.

      You're right that RPG books aren't educational texts, but a lot of people do become interested in real-world cultures after being introduced to them (or proxies of them) in fiction, or films, or games, or RPGs. It seems a bit of a shame to lose that, here.

      2) On this we may have to agree to disagree. Gustavus Adolphus, man! The Lion of the North! I love the sagas too, but the vast tragedy of Sweden's rise and fall as a great power has fascinated me ever since I first learned about it as a teenager.

      3) That seems a false dichotomy. For a game of dark horror-fantasy, wouldn't it make more sense to have both witch hunters and the witches they hunt more morally ambiguous? Having a clearly-demarcated Team Good and Team Evil seems like more of a high fantasy thing.

      4) Well, fascism is an ideology. If someone believes in the inherent superiority of the Aryan races and the need to unquestioningly obey the will of the Führer, then I'd be comfortable calling them a fascist even if they, personally, never got around to invading Czechoslovakia.

      I agree that the words 'nazi' and 'fascist' get thrown around far too loosely in modern online discourse. My initial point was that, if one *is* looking for fictions supportive of authoritarian violence, then the more unambiguously pro-Inquisition Warhammer becomes, the easier it becomes to adapt it to those purposes. I lack sufficient knowledge of Warhammer fandom, however, to know whether anyone out there actually *is* interpreting it in that fashion, though I have heard dark legends that this may be the case.

      Concluding Unscientific Postscript: The sagas are great, Gustavas Aldophus was a badass, I feel that one-dimensional portrayals of RPG cultures based on real-world groups are a missed opportunity (but accept that you may not agree with me on this), moral ambiguity is useful for horror games, and I strongly doubt that any real-world humans have actually been harmed by the publication of 'The Tome of Corruption'. OK?

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  8. Very much agreed on the evolution of Chaos and loss of nuance and complexity, as before. I was curious about this:

    "(1st edition more closely followed its 2000 AD inspirations in showing that at least some mutants were weird but harmless, and certainly not deserving of being burned alive.)"

    Could you elaborate on what the "2000 AD inspirations" would be in this context? This reference went over my head, though I gather it has something to do with the 2000 AD comic book.

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    1. 2000 AD is a British comic book which launched in 1977, and its early years were characterised by the same anarchic punk sensibility which animates early Warhammer, many of whose authors were obviously big 2000 AD fans. The most important influence was the 2000 AD comic strip 'Nemesis the Warlock' (launched 1980), which chronicled the adventures of an alien warrior who worshipped 'Khaos' [sic], and his battles against the 'terminators' of totalitarian human-supremacist space empire led by the Grand Inquisitor Torquemada. All of this went on to be absorbed bodily into Warhammer 40K: even the visual design of the 40K universe owes a lot to the crazy architecture that kept appearing in 'Nemesis the Warlock'. The main difference, obviously, was that the witch-hunting, alien-hating, inquisitor-and-terminator-sponsoring xenophobic space fascists went from being the villains to being the viewpoint characters. Originally that was satire, but I think that got forgotten at some point in the 1990s.

      Other 2000 AD strips that were influential on early Warhammer were Judge Dredd (launched 1977) and Strontium Dog (launched 1978). The fact that Dredd is both a genuine hero and a servant of a ludicrously repressive police state (with very strict, and totally unjustified, anti-mutant laws) is probably the key to understanding the original portrayal of both The Empire and The Imperium of Man. Strontium Dog, meanwhile, was about the exploits of a mutant bounty hunter in a dystopian future Britain in which mutants were a despised underclass. All these strips were strongly sympathetic to their mutant characters, even though the settings they depict usually treat them with brutality and contempt. Early WFRP sometimes shared this sympathy. Later WFRP, not so much.

      Finally, if you want to understand where the Fimir came from, take a look at the early Sláine comics, which appeared in 2000 AD from 1983 onwards...

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    2. Thanks. :) I gathered from context that it was something like that, but good getting more details.

      I've read some smatterings of a few of these comics long ago, and I can see the connection. Should try to find some more of them, I guess. :)

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    3. No problem. And if you want to see things really come full circle, check out Dan Abnett's 'Durham Red' comics, in which a character from Strontium Dog goes into suspended animation and wakes up in a sci-fi universe which strongly resembles the setting of 40K...

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    4. A notable late-ish (but still 1E) example of highly sympathetic treatment of mutants is the sub-adventure "The Colony" in Dying of the Light (1995), written by Anthony Ragan. The PCs come across a peaceful colony of mutants and a (non-mutant) Shallyan priestess ministering to them, and eventually get caught between the colony and a witch-hunter. I'll definitely find a way to work this episode into the later "seasons" of my remixed The Enemy Within campaign. :)

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