Sunday, 7 October 2018

Bringing Down the Hammer bonus issue: The GM's Pack

As Stuart Kerrigan pointed out, I missed this one the first time around. So this is me catching up. Once I've finished with this post, I really will have surveyed the entire WFRP 2nd edition line.

Games Master's Pack (April 2005)

Image result for wfrp gm pack

This book came packaged with the WFRP 2nd edition GM's screen. I never use a GM's screen myself - almost all my dice are rolled out in the open, and for the very occasional secret roll I just shield the dice with my hand - so I'm always forgetting about them. It's a 31-page book which consists of 8 pages of generic maps and floorplans, 7 pages of charts and reference material, and a 15-page introductory adventure called 'Pretty Things'. 

'Pretty Things' has a surprisingly complicated plot for such a short adventure. A baron has his daughter secretly raised by peasants, in ignorance of her true heritage, in order to keep her safe. The peasants get murdered by bandits, who steal the girl. The bandits get murdered by goblins, who steal the girl again. (Apparently as a gift for an orc chief who collects 'pretty things' - do orcs find human children pretty?), The PCs have to save the girl from the goblins before the orcs get her. Then a man tries to steal her from them, mistakenly believing she's actually his long-lost daughter. Then they deliver her to the baron, except the baron has just been murdered, so all they can do is hand her over to his steward in exchange for a reward. The end.

Mostly, this is an adventure about helplessness, which I suspect was designed to teach new players the difference between the Old World and more traditional fantasy settings. Everyone is miserable and desperate - even the goblins only do what they do because they're terrified of being eaten by the orcs - and there's no justice and no happy ending. There aren't very many genuine choices for the players to make, and the plot is a bit contrived in places: the PCs discover the dying peasants just in time to learn the girl's true identity, they only encounter the goblins after the bandits have softened them up, and so on. But the tone is right, and that makes up for a lot. Desperate outlaws limp along the road, disguised as wounded pilgrims. A cynical bounty hunter tries to pass a random farmer off as a wanted criminal so that he can collect a bounty from the roadwardens. A paranoid boatman, unhinged by grief, roams the world looking for his dead daughter. Benighted travellers camp in the burned-out ruins of a tollkeeper's house, listening to the wolves howl in the woods outside. As an introduction to low fantasy gaming, I think you could do far worse. I certainly prefer it to the painfully linear intro adventure in the corebook.

Now a random aside, to bulk out what would otherwise be a very short post. By my count, nineteen adventures were published for WFRP 2nd edition.  Of those nineteen, the primary antagonists break down as follows:


  • Chaos: 10
  • Undead: 3
  • Man's inhumanity to man: 3
  • Skaven: 2
  • Greenskins: 1

If you just look at the eight big book-length adventures, the pattern is even more striking:

  • Chaos: 5
  • Undead: 2
  • Skaven: 1

I call attention to this because, if you came to WFRP from the wargame, you could be forgiven for expecting all the different 'bad guy' factions - dark elves, chaos dwarves, greenskins, vampire counts, tomb kings, beastmen, chaos warriors, skaven, etc - to get roughly equal billing in the RPG, too. The 2005 Bestiary certainly presents them all as equally valid potential antagonists. In practise, though, WFRP adventures are always about chaos cultists, necromancers, beastmen, and skaven, with very occasional guest appearances from goblins. 

How about settings? Over the course of its second edition, WFRP detailed the Empire, Bretonnia, Kislev, the Border Princes, Norsca, parts of Tilea, the Skaven Under-Empire, the Chaos Wastes, the Chaos Dwarf empire, and the Eastern Steppe. So how do the settings of its published adventures break down?

  • The Empire: 15
  • Kislev: 1
  • The Empire and Kislev: 1
  • Bretonnia: 1
  • The Border Princes: 1


WFB needs lots of different kingdoms and races so that Games Workshop can sell lots of different miniatures. But how important are they to WFRP? I ran it for years without the PCs ever leaving the Empire, or ever facing adversaries other than criminals, cultists, mutants, demons, skaven, and that one bunch of goblins from Death on the Reik. This seems to me to be an area where 'WFRP in theory' (an RPG set in the same world as the wargame) and 'WFRP in practise' (Call of Cthulhu in early modern fantasy Germany) are clearly at odds. 

Did anyone ever run a WFRP game which didn't use chaos and/or skaven as the main antagonists, or one which was primarily set outside the Empire? Did any of that RPG information about dark elves and Bretonnian provinces and whatnot actually get used, or was it yet another case of fiction masquerading as game materials? If anyone has any information on this, I'm genuinely curious...

22 comments:

  1. I think there were some changes from the manuscript handed in by the author, and what actually appeared as Pretty Things: I believe the original intention was for the PCs to meet as members of the jury (for the trial of the falsely accused man). I rather like the adventure; having someone traumatised by grief is appropriate to the v2 setting, set in the aftermath of an attempted chaos invasion. I preferred the v1 setting with complacency about chaos, and decadence, but if you are in the aftermath of a war there ought to be themes about ruined cities, displaced people, attempted profiteering, disillusioned soldiers. This was touched on in the Wolfenburg section of The Thousand Thrones, but in few other places.
    If you will permit me to repeat a comment from elsewhere, the (beautifully illustrated) fan adventure The Nine Virtues of Magnus the Pious is an even better introduction than Pretty Things (and both are a mile ahead of the core book adventure). The fan adventures were a real strength of this edition, maybe the best thing about it. The Bigger They Are was another very good (near) beginning adventure which illustrates the differences between D+D and WFRP.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the suggestions. Are the fan adventures collected anywhere?

      Delete
    2. I think the most comprehensive collection I know of can be found via the signature of the user Xathrodox86 on Strike to Stun.

      Delete
    3. OK - found it. This one, right?

      https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0B78tEyor-_2DdU9TLTVUaW5VMjg

      I'll have to dig through it when I get a chance!

      Delete
  2. Now hypothetically adventures in Tilea, the WE mountains, Lustria, or Ulthuan are all viable. I can imagine cool stuff there. But it certainly highlights that 2nd Edition WFRP and 1st Edition are much closer in some ways than we might immediately realize; they still assume the same core game.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, this is what's interesting to me. If you read the supplements, it seems as though WFRP 2nd edition can be about all sorts of things; but if you read the adventures, it's pretty clear that actually it's almost always about knifing cultists in slums. There seems to be a disconnect between the games that the supplements supposedly supported and the games which people - even the people who *wrote* those supplements - were actually playing.

      This isn't at all unusual for RPGs, incidentally. RPG campaigns are slow and hard to organise, so the vast majority of them stick very close to the default 'core game': most Vampire games were about coteries of Camarilla neonates, for example. But RPG supplements are quick and easy to write, so it's very easy for 'campaign options' to multiply much quicker than people can actually use them!

      Delete
  3. As a publisher, being able to say 'my RPG lets you play as every faction from the wargame' definitely is a good hook. The *idea* of being able to run a campaign in a Chaos Dwarf city or facing down an army of Tomb Kings definitely has appeal to people, but I get the feeling only experienced groups or established fans would try that.

    I've mostly been exposed to RPGs via the internet, and from reading books like Dogs in the Vineyard or The Monolith from Beyond Space And Time. Meanwhile, my local groups pretty much exclusively play D&D 5e, with one or two playing Pathfinder, and generally one playing the flavour of the month like Starfinder or Shadowrun.

    The sheer volume of fanmade Codices for 40k that I've seen online I think are just more of this. I very much doubt that there's a real demand for Codex: The Covenant that lets you play as the aliens from Halo in 40k. For one, I doubt there are any accurate minis in that scale.

    On the other hand, it's a fun design & balancing exercise for the people who wrote it, it's a good conversation starter among fans of the two settings, and there's always the -chance- that you'll play it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. *Did* anyone ever try it, though? That's the information I'm fishing for. Did running a WFRP campaign in, say, Tilea ever get past the daydreaming stage, for anyone, anywhere? Did anyone actually *use* the rules for playing skaven or vampires or chaos sorcerers? Every WFRP actual play report I've ever seen has stuck pretty closely to the standard WFRP formula.

      Fan codices (or army books, for Warhammer) are clearly an example of the same process at work, adding yet more options that no-one is realistically ever going to actually use. Meanwhile Games Workshop, who actually take a financial hit when they produce models which no-one buys, are constantly in the business of *narrowing* their range, zooming in on the stuff which actually sells. Thus faction after faction - squats, chaos dwarves, Bretonnians, Ogre kingdoms, Tomb Kings, Dogs of War - gets tried out and then abandoned after there turns out to be insufficient demand to make it worth keeping them in production...

      Delete
    2. For the record, once I have run one adventure for skaven only group. It was fun, a bit silly and then we moved to more traditional adventures. :)

      Delete
    3. I played in a vampire game set in Bretonnia. It only lasted a few sessions though.

      Delete
    4. Thanks, both. Occasional one-offs I can well believe.

      Delete
  4. I expect it's a lot harder to organize a game of WFRP centered around one of the other factions because their geographic isolation means you have to double up on the setting workload - once to establish who the PCs are and then again for Naggarond or Khemri or wherever, which generally aren't much like the Empire but require a decent grasp of that standard setting to make sense. Then having done all that work, you end up with fewer options in the types of adventures you can easily have. A Tomb Kings campaign is going to be cursed tombs and skeletons pretty much all the way down, for example, while the Empire gives you more diversity of adventure types and antagonists. Chaos cults can be anywhere, undead can be anywhere that's a little spooky, and Skaven can be anywhere there's a city, but if you want lizardmen it's pretty much Lustria or bust.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's true, but D&D campaigns have no trouble with bouncing around from region to region depending on which monsters the GM wants to use this week. Or look at the Conan stories, where he can be in not-Scandinavia one issue and not-Egypt the next. I think it's the more grounded playstyle assumed by WFRP which makes it harder for the GM to just randomly say: 'So, this week's adventure begins with your PCs taking ship for Lustria...'

      Delete
  5. When I was young, I recall being given something (probably an old White Dwarf?) that included a printed WFRP adventure in which (as I recall) Norscans or other Old Worlders plundered a Lustrian temple guarded by Amazons. I am not really sure on the timing but I presume it was something for 1st edn. So: who knows whether anybody actually played it, but there was at least one adventure inviting parties to cause trouble across the world. Apologies if this is already a product you've flagged in your survey; I'm not going to go re-read each blog entry before commenting to make sure ;-).
    Thanks for the great blog! Please keep it up.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't think I've read that one, but I know that Lustrian Amazons have been a 'thing' in Warhammer for ages, so I guess that's where they come from. There was another old White Dwarf adventure which cast the PCs as pygmies in the Lustrian jungles, but that was meant as a one-off rather than for use as part of an ongoing campaign.

      Lustria's a bit of an odd example, actually, as it's become *less* integrated with the rest of the setting as time has gone on. The early years of Warhammer clearly assumed the Age of Discovery was in full swing, with New World settlements being built and conquistadores looting the cities of the Slann: just the kind of place where a bunch of WFRP PCs might turn up. Later editions depicted the whole of the New World as carved up between Dark Elves and Lizardmen, with the Old Worlder presence reduced to toeholds along the coast.

      Delete
  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  7. A different type of adventure that you might run is the criminal campaign. This seems to have been restricted to short adventures. On the side of the authorities, you have the likes of With a Little Help from Your Friends, Rough Night at the Three Feathers, Cannonball Run (Warpstone), Nastassia's Wedding (Pyramid); working against the law (possibly unwittingly) you have Ill Met in Bogenhafen, Eye of the Tiger (fan), Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker (fan), The Bigger They Are (fan), Worse than the Disease (fan). I believe there was a plan to publish a Thieves book for wfrp2 which got shelved.

    Dark elves are the ultimate opposition in the wfrp3 adventure The Witch's Song; an orc army is marching on the Eyrie in Death Rock.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, criminals have been a standard part of the WFRP set-up ever since the Oldenhaller Contract. As you say, they're usually not the *main* antagonists, but they do crop up an awful lot, especially as WFRP PCs also tend to be at least semi-criminal.

      ...I'm going to have to read the WFRP3 stuff at some point as well, aren't I...?

      Delete
  8. I think The Enemy Within is the best of the adventures; similar themes to the classic campaign, but new material. And your favourites appear. (I think someone should buy you one of those plague rat toys in the Globe Theatre shop.)

    ReplyDelete
  9. I ran a homemade campaign made by me called "The treasure of the estern shore" where the party joined a ship set to lustria guided by a mad nobel who had visions of gold and artifacts within the tempels of the jungels. The story was that a slan mage had put the visions in his head to place the humans in lustria. The slan mage held back a weakness in the world where deamons tried to enter. Fortelling that a dark elf fleet of corsairs was coming to sack the city, kill the slan mage and therefore unintensional unleashing the deamons on lustria he devised a plan to put the humans in their path. This was fun as the slan used the nobel as his voise, first in secret and later in the open. In the early part the ship gets burned by the elfs and they get stuck in lustria trying to find a new way to get back home. In they end they failed and nurgels deamons now roam the jungels and slowly the tempel citys fall one by one. (Sorry for my bad english!)stria guided by a mad nobel who had visions of gold and artifacts within the tempels of the jungels. The story was that a slan mage had put the visions in his head to place the humans in lustria. The slan mage held back a weakness in the world where deamons tried to enter. Fortelling that a dark elf fleet of corsairs was coming to sack the city, kill the slan mage and therefore unintensional unleashing the deamons on lustria he devised a plan to put the humans in their path. This was fun as the slan used the nobel as his voise, first in secret and later in the open. In the early part the ship gets burned by the elfs and they get stuck in lustria trying to find a new way to get back home. In they end they failed and nurgels deamons now roam the jungels and slowly the tempel citys fall one by one. (Sorry for my bad english!)

    ReplyDelete