Tuesday 23 October 2018

Bringing Down the Hammer, part 12: my own private WFRP

This is a rather self-indulgent post, which serves as a kind of addendum to the last twelve, and won't necessarily be of much interest to anyone except myself. I'm just going to use it to sketch out how, if I were to run a WFRP campaign again, I might draw upon the collective resources of the game's first and second editions to do so.

My own personal vision of the WFRP world would be built around nine basic concepts:

1: From above, life in the Old World looks good.

This is an aspect of the setting which was present in the original corebook, but has been mostly neglected ever since. There's a Renaissance in progress! The cities are growing. The economy is booming. The tax receipts are up. Did you see the size of the cannon they wheeled out of the Artillery School the other week? Did you hear how much gold that Tilean treasure fleet carried back from Lustria the other year? (The natives? Who cares about the natives? Just a bunch of stupid lizard-men too dim to realise the value of their own treasure...) The colonies in the New World are multiplying. The land is just there for the taking. We're richer than our forefathers. We're less ignorant. We have printing presses and magnetic compasses and much, much bigger guns. The world is our oyster.

The social elite of the Old World is complacent, not because they're stupid, but because from their perspective everything is going great. They have no interest in hearing the complaints of some ignorant peasant about how bad things are. The ledgers of their bankers tell a very different story.

2: From below, life in the Old World looks terrifying.

Everything's changing. The old certainties are being questioned. The old order is falling apart. People are swarming together into filthy cities where they die in their thousands of waterbourne diseases. There are things lurking in the forests. One of the sewer workers swears he's seen rats down there that walk like men. Lustria is a green hell where the frog-men will shoot you full of poison darts and leave you to bleed out through your own eyeballs while your boss sails off with all the treasure. The New World is a brutal wilderness where half the settlers end up perishing of starvation. When the ships went out last year they found that one of the colonies had just flat-out vanished. The only sign of where everyone had gone was the word NAGGAROTH carved into the side of a tree.

The progress celebrated by the elites is real, but it has been purchased at a terrifying price in social dislocation and human suffering. The poor, unlike the rich, do not have the luxury of ignoring this fact.

3: The threat of chaos is systematically underestimated

The official narrative is that the forces of chaos were vanquished two hundred years ago by Magnus the Pious, and ever since then there's been nothing to worry about. Maybe the occasional cabal of delusional madmen still worships the old chaos gods, but the idea that chaos could still pose a serious threat to civilisation is ludicrous.

The fact is that chaos has seeped into all the cracks in the Old World's increasingly unstable social fabric. Deep in the woods, in the vast untravelled spaces between the new trade roads, the beastmen have been secretly multiplying for generations, their numbers supplemented by regular influxes of mutants driven out of human communities. In the boudoirs of the very rich, the jaded inheritors of wealth and luxury gather to enact the fashionable blasphemies of Slaanesh. Down in the slums, the truly desperate know that only Fat Father Nurgle can save you once the fevers start. The traumatised veterans of petty wars dream red dreams of a red god on a throne made of human skulls. They gather in psychopathic mercenary companies. They will work for anyone who gives them someone to kill.

'Chaos', in other words, serves as a metaphor for the costs of social change. The authorities ignore it because it suits them to ignore it, but the threat it poses is much greater than anyone recognises.

4: The social order is teetering on the edge of collapse

The Old World is a powderkeg. Think of France on the cusp of the Wars of Religion, or Germany just before the Thirty Years War. The whole society is a mass of barely contained contradictions - rich vs. poor, old vs. new, Ulrican vs. Sigmarite - and it won't take much of a spark to ignite a general conflagration. The feudal order of the Empire, Elector Counts and all, is hopelessly unequal to the task of actually governing the dynamic, rapidly-changing place that the Empire has become. They cling to their outmoded aristocratic trappings as though they still believed that all the world's problems can be solved by a man on a horse with a lance.

A game in this version of WFRP wouldn't have to involve an actual Empire civil war, Empire in Flames style. But the obvious fragility of the social order, and the ease with which acts of sabotage or provocation by the forces of chaos could lead to catastrophe, would be a major theme.

5: The PCs are the people on the margins who can see the world as it is

Rat catchers. Lamp lighters. Sewer jacks. Pamphlet sellers. Grave robbers. Bonepickers. Roadwardens. Bawds. Beggars. Agitators. Gamblers. Outlaws. These people are the protagonists, because they are the only ones in a position to see the truth.

The upper classes can't see it. They've insulated themselves from the world's unpleasant realities.

The lower classes can't see it. They keep to their shops, or their farms, or their workshops. They close the shutters after dark and make a virtue of incuriosity. Bad things happen to people who step out of line.

It's the marginal, semi-criminal classes, right on the edges of society, who are most likely to get glimpses of the truth. The skaven in the sewers. The beastmen in the woods. The ghouls burrowing under the old cemetery. The oddly-proportioned figures who squirm back into the darkness when the lamps are lit. The furtive men and women who gather at the old monolith whenever the moon is dark.

No-one ever wants to hear about what people like the PCs have discovered.

No-one ever wants to hear about what they had to do about it.

And yet, despised and disbelieved as they are, they are often all that stands between human society and the forces that would devour it from within.

6: Adventures take place in the shadows

Hooks are often a weakness in WFRP scenarios, with writers having to come up with all kinds of contrived reasons for why a boatman, a footpad, and a printer's apprentice would ever be picked as the people to deal with the current emergency. In this version, I envision the default adventure as being a bit like Shadowrun meets Call of Cthulhu, with PCs serving as deniable, disposable assets for people dealing with things that they cannot afford to either acknowledge or ignore. When a community leader is confronted with a string of disappearances that the authorities have no interest in solving, or when a cleric needs the disturbing irregularities of one of his colleagues investigated off the books, or when the roadwardens need to know what's eating all these travellers but can't possibly spare any manpower to go riding around in the woods... they reach out to the scum. People with broad minds, strong arms, and empty purses. People who won't scoff at stories of monsters in the sewers, and who won't flinch at risking their lives for a bag of gold and a bottle of rotgut whisky. People like the PCs.

The default PC party would be a friendship group: probably a gang of socially-marginal people who regularly meet up to drink at the same low tavern. They would have a local reputation, not as heroes, but as the sort of people who can get things done for the right price. That should suffice to get them entangled in all kinds of awfulness.

7: Superstition is sometimes right and sometimes wrong

The people used to have a densely-woven fabric of folk beliefs that helped them to survive in the world, but now that fabric lies in tatters, riven by religious reformation and social change. No-one is quite sure what to believe any more. The nobles and scholars may mock them for it, but the people, especially in rural areas, still cling to their beliefs about witches and mutants and the Evil Eye. The clergy bemoan the willingness of the peasantry to indulge the antics of the self-appointed witch hunters who plague the countryside. If only their ridiculous superstitions could be swept away once and for all!

Given the premises this version of WFRP is built around, I think it's really important that sometimes the crazy-looking guy ranting about witches is absolutely right, and sometimes he's just a delusional sadist itching to have the girl next door burned at the stake. The folk beliefs of the people are simultaneously a repository of ancient wisdom unjustly scorned by a complacent elite, and the product of countless generations of shocking ignorance and pointless cruelty, and from the perspective of the PCs it should never be too obvious which is which. The relative tolerance of the authorities towards mutants, for example, should be able to serve both be a metaphor for their increasingly enlightened attitudes towards the kind of people who had previously been the objects of unjust persecution, and for their contemptuous dismissal of the totally valid concerns of the poor. (After all, from the perspective of people like the PCs, why should it be easy to tell the two apart?) The game loses a lot of its bite if 'Burn the witch! Burn the mutant!' is either always right or always wrong.

8: The PCs may be scum, but they are socially mobile scum

This is where the careers system comes in. The world is changing. The old social hierarchies aren't as rigid as they used to be. Just because you're a rat-catcher today doesn't mean you'll be a rat-catcher forever. You just have to keep an eye out for opportunities and make sure you know when to jump ship.

I'd be inclined to couple regular career changes with campaigns that covered long stretches of game time, with months or years between adventures. I'd want the PCs to end up as the kind of people who could say: 'Well, as a kid I worked as a servant, but then in my early twenties I got really angry and became an agitator, except that after a few years things got too hot for me so I ran off into the woods and became an outlaw, but robbing people never really sat right with me so by the time I was thirty I was really more of a vagabond, and life on the road changed my perspective, so when I was thirty-two I took my vows as a friar...' I'd want a real sense that the characters were out there living a life, y'know?

9: The setting is low-fantasy and low-magic

Most people go their whole lives without seeing a non-human. Dark elves are a whispered horror story among New World colonists. High elves are a sailor's tale about an unreachable magical island with a tall white tower. Wood elves are a legend about fae enchanters in the forests. Goblins are a folk tale about the spiteful little creatures who live in caves beneath the hollow hills. Dwarves are proud and distant isolationists, utterly preoccupied with their own long and tragic history that no-one else knows or cares about. Chaos dwarves are a weird lost world civilisation somewhere over the mountains. Magic-using priests and magicians are rare and rather scary figures. (PC magic-users would be fine, but they'd be very much of the 'magical academy student drop-out' type rather than official magi.) Vampires are a horrible rumour in the eastern provinces, rather than the open rulers of Sylvania. Skaven officially don't exist. And so on.

The antagonists for almost all adventures would be criminals, cultists, magicians, religious fanatics, mutants, beastmen, skaven, and the undead. You could probably run a whole lengthy campaign without ever having to decide whether, say, ogres actually existed as anything more than a legend.

Other Miscellaneous bits and pieces

The setting as a whole would be pegged to the mid-seventeenth century, though with plenty of flexibility in either direction. In particular:
  • The Empire would be primarily based on Germany just before the Thirty Years War. 
  • Sylvania would be based on Transylvania during the unsettled years around 1600.
  • Marienburg would be based on the Netherlands during its golden age in the mid-seventeenth century. 
  • Bretonnia would be based on France just before the beginning of the Fronde. 
  • Norsca would be based on Sweden under Gustavus Adolphus. 
  • Kislev would be based on Russia under Peter the Great. 
  • Albion would be based on Britain under James I. 
  • Estalia would be based on Spain in the early 16th century, in the age of Cortés and Pizarro.
  • Tilea would be based on Italy in the early 16th century, in the age of the Medici popes.
I'd use an unholy mash-up of the first and second edition rules, guided only by caprice and whim. In particular, I'd use all the starting careers from both editions, and put them onto a huge random table for starting PCs to roll on.

I'd use the first edition version of the colleges of magic, with 'colour magic' being a specialised form of magic used by Imperial battle wizards rather than the only form of magic permitted in the Empire. (I'd stick with the second-edition idea of colour magic inducing physical changes in its practitioners, though, which would ensure that the populace at large saw college magicians as little more than state-sanctioned chaos cultists.) 

I'd use the religions as detailed in the second edition Tome of Salvation, though with greater emphasis on the Sigmar / Ulric rivalry as the setting's equivalent of the split between Catholics and Protestants. I'd revert the four main chaos gods to their first edition status as 'four examples among many', rather than having them as the great powers of chaos. Malal would be back in. So would the gods of Law. 

I'd primarily use the first edition version of Bretonnia, though a shrunken version of second-edition Bretonnia could be included as the setting's equivalent of Brittany. I'd use the second edition versions of Mousillon and Kislev. I'd use the second edition skaven, but I don't think I'd bother with the second edition vampire clans. 

I'd keep 'dwarf trollslayer' as a default character type, but would dial back the presence of non-trollslayer dwarves in the setting. I might still have the sea elves hanging around in Marienburg for old time's sake, though. I find the idea of a bunch of elves lolling about in fantasy Amsterdam weirdly appealing. 

It would rain all the time. 'Protection from rain' would be the most prized spell in the game. 

All PCs would begin play as the owners of small but vicious dogs.


  1. Brilliant stuff. Going to have to dig around your blog for more. Keep it coming.

    Two things I would suggest though:
    Section 6 should be split into two parts: A) The PCs are disposable people for others who are too busy or can't get caught up in something just like you said. Part B) would be people who just happened to be in the right place at the wrong time.

    The other change would be to section 9. People from rural areas might never have seen an elf or a dwarf. However people who grew up in large cities (or even those who grew up as stable boys at large coaching inns) might have seen a handful as travellers, even if they never spoke to them.

    1. 'Right place at the wrong time' was actually the opening scene I used, years ago, for my own long-running WFRP campaign. The PCs were just a bunch of people sitting in a tavern when a bleeding man staggered in and died on their table, clutching a strange bit of paper in his hand. Several years of game-time later, those same random plebs ended up saving the empire from a chaos conspiracy to have a chaos cultist crowned as Emperor...

  2. Love the focusing on what makes The Old World unique: lumpen proletariat as murderhobos, chaos as the enemy within, capitalism destroying the old order, the fantasy Call of Cthulhu.

    I'd have to keep 2e Bretonnia though. Even anachronistic, the Grail-fueled knights, the anarchistic peasants, the teetering monarchy, the creepy implications (folkloric, fey/sihde-like) about elves, the strange primitivism. It's so interesting and evocative and grimy. Even if they couldn't possibly stand up to mercantalized, pike and shot, early modern states, I'd just chalk it up to be a propped up elven buffer state. No one comes back from Athel Loren to tell about it, but you can catch glimpses of who they are by their influence on Bretonnia.

    1. I like it too, for all the same reasons, but something I've been increasingly concluding recently is that there doesn't need to be any equivalence between how interesting a place is and how big it is. 2nd edition Bretonnia could work just as well as a creepy backwater like Mousillon or Sylvania, rather than a major chunk of the setting!

  3. This is my kind of Warhammer. Much appreciated.


  4. There's a lot to think about in here! As a campaign sales-pitch, consider me sold.

    I want to heap praise on your writing about the social instability created by urbanization and industrialization and how the elite are able to ignore it - but I don't know what to say beyond quoting you back to yourself.

    I like your thoughts about the PCs. Why are these people with wildly different jobs adventuring together? Because they were already friends before the adventure started. What sort of person is willing to take the risks adventuring calls for? A marginal person, someone who's been displaced and no longer fits into the feudal order, and whose only chance for survival is to seize on the new opportunities created by social change.

    How many rumors are true? I've been thinking about this one myself recently. I like your answer. Half the time rumors are truth that gets ignored because it's inconvenient, and half the time they're unjust and cruel slander. They're never always true or always false. This is still something I'm not sure about, but I appreciate having your perspective.

    1. Thanks, Anne! I think you can fine-tune the rumour-truth ratio up and down to give different feels to the setting. I'm not sure that it matters if the ratio is 50-50 or 80-20 as long as there's an element of genuine uncertainty...

  5. Excellent, excellent take. You make the world come alive in an exquisite way.

  6. Equipment lists say a lot not only about the material culture of the campaign world but often the implied status of your characters. Consider a typical fighter in D&D v.3 can begin play with 140gp to equip himself, then consider a "day's wage" for an unskilled laborer is given as 1sp---who DOES delve into the forlorn deeps of the world, risking it all for gold and glory? Not the truly desperate it seems, but those with enough capital to take such risky ventures in the first place: the upper echelons off the middle class, looking to make their leap into the even smaller circles of the truly mega-rich.

    1. Depends how seriously you take the figures in D&D. I'm pretty sure they started with an idea of the kind of equipment they wanted a 1st level fighter to be able to afford, and worked backwards from there. Otherwise, why are starting fighters so much richer than starting wizards, who are presumably usually members of the literate middle classes?

  7. I know why I would still use Warhammer Fantasy after all those years... Thanks for your reviews !

  8. Sounds very good. I like the humanocentric focus, although I would allow more contact with dwarves and halflings, and keep elves as the ultra rare. WFRP can work well with PC groups of "Han Solo scoundrels", who may climb the social ladder if luck runs their way; the careers system can be used to good effect here.
    I would like to see political adventures (e.g. influencing an election, crime families vying for power) in your version of the setting. We are overdue an official Lustria campaign. (I think Roysten Crow wrote a fan version.)

    1. Thanks for all the adventure tips. I'll get around to taking a look at them eventually...

  9. I agree with everyone else: far from being of "[little] interest to anyone except [yourself]", this is seriously damn excellent.

    The thing I like most, though, is the following. So the Empire is falling apart. Alright! But in an inobvious, covert way that you describe. That's very cool. But what's truly great about the setup, in my opinion, is the way you propose to weave the PCs into it all, because it can allow the players to directly engage these most interesting parts. This is when the already fun ideas amount to more than their sum. It just clicks together.

    Thanks a whole bunch for the series of reviews and especially for this last post.


    Seriously, this, combined with your thoughts on the vermin civilization, just sparks the imagination. So, the governor gathers the townsfolk and whips out an official proclamation from the Emperor himself (damn!): rat-men, asserts the Emperor in his official capacity, do not exist, period. "Got that, you dirt-crawling imbeciles? There are some murderous bastards hiding underground, sure, and, hear what, we've already hired these here gentlemen to root them out, who are by tomorrow contracted to bring us your precious "rat-men" to be hanged in the square, and that'll be the end of it." So says the official. Bit by bit, the town is overrun. But can the Emperor be wrong? In a month, the farmers who've seen the monsters with their own eyes honestly begin to recall people wearing rat masks and can apparently even point to some neighbours they recognized among the costumed bandits. Nobles even know—that is, for a certainty, my dearest friend, but you must keep it a secret, and make sure to burn the letter—which count's exact bastard is the leader of these "rat" brigands and which countess is his lover, along with her daughters, apparently. So, in another month, the entire population of the town is mostly disappeared, and man, even those who saw the ratfolk slave-drivers taking people underground would not openly imply the Emperor to be wrong as fuck and just say (and ultimately force themselves to believe) that, yes, the town's revolted and gone down below and they're all brigands now, hiding in tunnels they've built out of disrespect for the good governor and in order to paint him in a bad light, yes sirree. And the only ones who look upon this doomed circus with the grimmest of smirks are the contractors from earlier: the rat catcher, the lamp lighter and especially the sewer jack (oh guv, the sewer jack has seen more than anyone should ever have). They could be looting the abandoned residences (which are as unsafe as it gets, especially the cellars—i.e. exactly where the good stuff is supposed to be), trying to contact the local wizard who apparently still resides at his mansion on central street somehow; they may be retrieving a noble's peasant lover (or pretending to do so while gaming him for money, knowing fully well that, having been taken by what the sewer jack calls the "eatables procurement mischief", s/he's WAY beyond saving); or they may choose to work for the understaffed and underfunded army guy that the Emperor has apparently sent to investigate this incognito. They may not even know how to hold a sword right, but their most important asset is that they are able to see what's really happening. How cool is that?

  10. This is superb. I'm tempted to design my next run along these lines. Reluctant to use WFRP (or Zweihander), tho... my instinct is to use either an OSR system, or to reskin Blades in the Dark a bit.

    1. OSR could certainly work. So could Blades, from what I've heard about it. The main things I like about WFRP are the colour and specificity of its careers and skill system, but I guess it would be possible to graft versions of them onto other systems. As long as the game lets you start play as a super-numerate embezzler with a passion for numismatics, you're probably good to go...

  11. I'll chime in with the choir: I had looked forward to this post, and it didn't disappoint. This is brilliant stuff. Very close to the principles of my own version of the Old World (I'm running a heavily remixed The Enemy Within campaign) but you make some points I hadn't quite considered and that I will definitely work in, like Chaos as a metaphor for the effects of social change. (I've also taken quite a bit of inspiration from your writings on "romantic fantasy".)

    It might amuse you that I'm considering putting a version of your whole Wicked City setting in where the Darklands are on the current world map (though mainly as distant legends, the PCs are very unlikely to ever go there).

    1. Thanks, Theo! Always glad to hear that people are getting some use out of the Wicked City material, even if it's just as a stopgap in case their PCs ride east and just keep on going. I'd never thought about it in relation to WFRP, but I can see how it could probably fit into the setting with relatively little trouble...

    2. To elaborate a bit on my first point: I very much appreciate the strong class perspective in your vision. This is something I definitely want to implement in my TEW campaign, and it’s one of the things that will definitely mean I’ll have to rewrite the campaign endgame completely if and when I get that far. Both Empire in Flames and, to a greater extent, the fan-made Empire at War assume that by this point the PCs will be (more or less) loyally working for the establishment to ”save the Empire” – in EiF this means a quasi-Arthurian quest to find the magic hammer and identify the ”true heir of Sigmar”, in EaW basically restoring and preserving the slightly modified (as in, updated to 2E canon) status quo – and in the end, hopefully, ending up as national heroes.

      While of course, even a corrupt and generally shitty feudal status quo is preferable to civil war anarchy, I can’t really see myself framing this as the big climactic triumph – I’d like my PCs to become heroes, but they should still be underdog outsiders. I’d sort of like to see them, eventually, get to tell the Todbringers and Karl-Franzes of the world, ”Fine. We’ll help sorting out this mess and stop the civil war/save the world/find the magic hammer/whatever. But we’re not doing it for YOU assholes.”

    3. To be fair, PCs using periods of civil strife as springboards for demanding radical social change would be entirely period-appropriate! If only the Levellers had had more fate points...

  12. Joining the chorus here, this is beautifully written.
    I always read WFRP as principally what you wind up making when you start with dnd players and want to sell them on a 17th century campaign - chaos cults are straight up heresies of the wars of religion, that Albigensian or Hussite heterodox impulse that won’t die, that pops up again in America in the 19th century, the thousand cults we choose to call The Reformation like it was all Luther’s idea.
    My reading of LotFP is that it’s really this again: WFRP’s legacy into dnd, where monsters are always exceptional and the world is unsettled enough that you don’t even need them.

    Your social misfits point is also beautifully made and makes me think about differences between Cthulhu and Scooby Doo - in the former, involvement with the Mythos turns investigators into intolerable misfits who have to be institutionalized.... WFRP dregs. In the latter, the Age of Aquarius is in full swing: misfits rule (or are tolerated), youth shows the way forward, so after they get the guy in the rubber mask and show that monsters aren’t real after all, THEN they’re welcome back in society.

    1. I think you're right that part of the brilliance of WFRP's 'chaos' is that it allows you to communicate to modern, secular players the kind of primal horror aroused by 'heresy' in the early modern period. Emmy Allen wrote a bit about it here:


      I also agree that LOTFP is very heavily informed by WFRP. You could drop a scenario like 'Forgive Us' or 'Death Frost Doom' into a WFRP campaign without changing anything except the place names.

      In relation to WFRP characters being social misfits - WFRP never seems to have quite decided whether the default character arc was supposed to be downwards into madness and death, as in CoC, or upwards to fame and success, as in D&D. Both at once, perhaps: the careers system means that surviving PCs will tend to rise in the world, while the accumulation of mutations and insanity points simultaneously makes them increasingly unfit for it. But it is notable that an awful lot of WFRP adventures end with the PCs essentially being told: 'Thanks for saving us, here's some money, now fuck off and never show your faces in this town again...'

  13. I dont suppose you'd review WFRP 3rd Editions stuff next?

    1. Uhm. I've not read it, and more to the point I've not *played* it, so I don't know how authoritatively I could write about it. (I mean, technically I haven't played 2nd edition either, but it's close enough to 1st that I feel I have some foundation for my judgements.) That said, I seem to have somehow committed myself to some kind of grand overview of the dark eurofantasy genre, so I guess I'll have to address WFRP 3 at some point. There's no way I'm buying all those expensive box sets just to write blog posts about them, though!

    2. No, no, that's fair enough. I imagine PDFs would be what you're after to review.

      Really the strength of 3e is in the scenarios - they seem like a fun bunch but are not particularly strong. There was a "New" Enemy Within which was basically about a new set of cultists doing similar things to the old ones, but with a character who was basically "The Claw" leading them. It'd be interesting to get your perspective on those scenarios from an OSR perspective.

      I have copies of the Enemy Within and the Edge of Night, but no core box, and the PHB, DMG and Monster style 3e rulebooks (which came out a couple of years after the Core set) are little more than look-up tables for all the various skill cards you would use if you didn't stubbornly refuse to buy them (e.g. if you use the Winning Smile Talent and roll Hammer, Hammer, Boon then here is the effect you apply).

      That said IMHO any of the flaws you had with 2E's setting are even more enhanced with 3e, which dialed back to pre-Storm times - something 2E's Chris Pramas had wanted to do (see http://www.chrispramas.com/2009/09/26/wfrp2-and-the-storm-of-chaos/ if you haven't done so before).

      FFG took a bit of a micro-view to supplements and thus barely got out of Reikland by the time the license was finished. It really felt like they were stretching it out with a War boxed set (Khorne), a Magic boxed set (Tzeentch), a Priestly boxed set (Nurgle) and a Social boxed set (Slaanesh). And then an Epic-Level Character Boxed Set which allowed rules for non-Reikland humans, halflings and ogres (which are sooo unsuited to most WFRP investigative adventures). The other sets are basically adventures, or more crunchy rule cards.

    3. Thanks, Stuart - this is all useful to know. I've found it hard to know how to even begin navigating WFRP3 because of its non-traditional structure, and I've also frankly found the idea of getting to grips with a 30-book edition somewhat intimidating. So it's good to know that much of it can be safely skipped!

    4. Hey Joseph - I've pinged you a message on Google+, while it still exists, if you need any more help with 3e.

      One of the relatively good things about 3e is that most of the rules are on the cards, which you don't get with the PDFs ironically.

      The books are either almost system agnostic scenarios or just very broad sourcebooks which go into various aspects of Imperial society, and are certainly a shorter read than a 2e supplement. The epic level sourcebook Hero's Call clocks in at 80 pages, including a large scenario. The religion sourcebook - 50 pages, compared to Tome of Salvation, though it came with a 2nd Nurgle themed book for GMs.

      3e is the edition I probably played the most as I had a mate who was a massive proponent of it. We only really used pre-published scenarios as again the game didn't lend itself to making new scenarios (as most GMs could never be able to create individual components to rival those included in pre-written scenarios).

      My pal invited all and sundry to play, and the group swelled to 8 players. The game grinded to a halt under those circumstances, with some of us using the PHB-style book to allow other players to have the cards (you only got enough stuff for 3 players and a GM in the core set). I used to bring a novel to read during combats...

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  15. Tgat's my world, that's my setting, well written Sir!

  16. Please keep on bringing down the hammer

    1. I think the hammer's been pretty well brought down, to be honest. But I'll soon be starting a new series of posts to discuss what happened next: Zweihander, Small But Vicious Dog, the WFRP 2 fan adventures, Shadow of the Demon Lord, LOTFP, etc. I'm thinking of calling it 'echoes and aftershocks'...

  17. This has been a neat appraisal. It would have been more interesting to me to read a campaign report from WHFRP than the irrelevant trash you presented in your next post. Vornheim - Deathfrost, really that garbage? What about your own Wicket City?

    I would like to see you tackle MERP and even if not MERP then a *playing in Middle-Earth* post.

    1. If I ever return to Proper Serious Gaming in real life, it'll have to be when my son is older and/or my wife's health improves. For now, anything that can't be run casually over a beer with a few friends in a couple of hours after work is a non-starter.

      As mentioned above, I do intend to go on to discuss the various WFRP successor systems: WFRP3, LOTFP, Zweihander, etc. Any subsequent big projects will have to wait until after that series concludes...

    2. I was pulling your leg a little. Pity that ideal gaming eludes you as it does most responsible adults, it would have been revealing to eventually see a WHFRP game of yours on youTube.

  18. I've loved reading your series and your ideas in this final post strike me as just the kind of direction I would want to take the Old World.

    As a Swede and semi-competent student of history I'm curious though what image you see when you think of Norsca by way Gustaphus Adolphus because the hook doesn't seem that obvious.

    Sweden under Gustavus Adolphus was a poor, sparsely populated nation that managed to achieve a fleeting regional supremacy by dint of civic reforms that allowed it to more efficiently wield the little resources it had, and then multiply them through warfare and extensive and brutal looting of it's wealthy southern neighbours.

    I could see a place for a Gustavian Norsca in an Empire riven by civil war, but without that war it would just be akin to a poorer, more rural Imperial province. The history buff in me would enjoy it but maybe not many others would.

    1. Because I wanted to keep the setting pegged to the 16th and 17th centuries, so the Dark Ages vikings of the official setting were right out. The original WFRP corebook described the Norscans as holding the line against the forces of chaos in the far north, so my mind immediately went to Sweden under Gustavus Adolphus as an example of what a highly militarised early modern Scandinavian state might look like.

      The fact that Sweden played such an important role in the Thirty Years War is a bonus, as the Thirty Years War is obviously the model for the looming Imperial civil war which casts such a shadow over 1st edition WFRP, which raises the possibility of a Norscan intervention into a fractured Empire. So at least it has a clear identity and some potential energy to it. Early modern Scandinavia's hardly my specialism, though, so if there's another bit of it that you think would work better, I'd be interested to hear about it!

  19. A great read - and I think you really nail a problem of the Old World setting with your point 9. The orcs/goblins always strike me as a bit of a failure of the imagination in Warhammer - and the biggest source of tension between the wargame and the RPG. Reimagining them as spooky, liminal creatures of the wilderness or as dwellers inside rocks of a bergtroll/duergar/draugr/fairy sort would fix this, I think.

    On the Warhammer world: I've just chanced upon a plausible literary source for one of its underpinnings: CJ Cherryh's Gate of Ivrel:


    1. Good find! I don't think it's *quite* a slam-dunk, because the three key elements - fantasy settings that used to be SF settings, hyperspace gates as physical objects fixed in specific locations, and ancient races who used to travel through space and time until someone fucked up and broke everything - are all common enough in SF that I can easily imagine two people independently deciding to put them all together. But finding all three in a novel that came out just a few years before WFRP is certainly very suggestive. I don't suppose the qhal are described as looking like frogs, are they?

      I agree that more folkloric goblins, like the ones in Dragon Warriors, would work better for WFRP than the ones in the wargame. Fortunately GW's already done most of the work for us in that respect, in the form of the Forest Goblins (creepy little people who live in the depths of the forest, shoot you with poisoned arrows, and drag you away to feed to their giant spiders) and the Night Goblins (crazed subterranean degenerates in black rags who come swarming out of caves to whack you with clubs, snare you in nets, and carry you off beneath the earth, never to be seen again). Just make them the primary forms of Old World goblinoid, rather than the idiot greenskin hordes of WFB, and the problem should largely solve itself!

  20. I really like your version of the Empire, though there are certain areas i would say i deviate with you on. In my interpretation of the empire based on what i've read dwarfs are fairly common in all areas of the empire both the urban and rural areas and the importance of the "mountainfolks" in imperial history has led to them being viewed as part of society. For example a group of traveling dwarf merchants visting a small town would not be seen as "a once in a lifetime event", but would be special in that it would be common knowledge that dwarves tend to carry high quality goods and will most of the time deal with you honestly and fair.

    On the other hand while dwarfs in the empire would be integrated in empire society and be considered “imperial citizens” they also, to a degree keep themselves “outside it” at the same time. For example in the form of often choosing to live amongst themselves in particular areas of cities or villages and having a lot of cultural norms that might be viewed as “weird” and “just how they are” by the human inhabitants such as their extreme focus on honour, carrying grudges and oaths between generation for centuries longer something that sometimes end up in your drinking buddy suddenly dying his hair orange and disappearing into the woods after a drinking binge that perhaps went a bit too far. In my interpretation of the old world there is also a pretty big divide between the “Imperial dwarfs” and the “Karas Ankor” and “Grey mountain” dwarfs from how “far way” they could be considered to be from the physical remants of the dwarfs “golden age”. While a dwarf living in Altdorf, perhaps even born and raised in the city and as such a product of both his or her dwarfen culture and history learned from the indiviuals clan and family and the culture and history of Altdorf might be seen as somewhat rigid and stubborn by his human friends, dwarfs from the mountainholds would probably view him or her as dangerously radical, way to flexible and probably be grumbling about “the kids today” and the lack of “dwarfishness” . Meanwhile a Karas Ankor dwarf might view even a Grey mountain dwarf as to flexible and radical given that they also exist outside what is considered the dwarfs homeland in comparatively “new holds” from after the fall of the empire where “dangerous new ideas” about what being a dwarf really means could have been spawned. While both Imperial Dwarfs and Grey mountain dwarfs might idealize the Karaz Ankor as the pinnacle of the dwarf culture. Its probably likely that if they ever meet a Karaz Ankor dwarf they would view them as arrogant, stuck up and perhaps even stubborn and stuck in the past. Considering that there are dwarfs that even others dwarfs might consider “too conservative” that could really cause a clash between people used to dealing with Imperial dwarfs if they ever met a Karaz Ankor dwarf!
    The TLDR could probably be viewed as dwarves being an accepted and “taken for granted” part of imperial society, but at the same time never completely integrated in this society.

    1. As for the high elves I view them as being to a degree like how the relationship between Germany and Scandinavia with the roman empire has been interpreted based on archeological finds, or as in what little I’ve read about the interaction between the roman and Chinese empire. Namely that these appear not to have been mythical places, but rather areas viewed as immensely far away, but with goods that would be very attractive to people everywhere in the empire. Given that a lot of the high elves in the empire are traders and merchants and they are probably not all of the ultra rich merchant prince type you would not only have elves that deal in luxury goods, but also merchants that deal in cheaper mass produced goods like ceramics and pottery that they can barter and sell to the common people for a good profit due to elven goods being highly sought after by everyone. Somewhat like the finds of Roman goods like Terra sigilata ceramics and glassware in Scandinavia. Areas like Marienburg, Altdorf and other big cities might be viewed as “border areas “where the distinct cultures interact and trade, with “lots” of elves from all kinds of social layers mixing with the cities populace. Elves would not be viewed as “exotic” as much as perhaps just “foreign”. Outside of the big cities in smaller villages and towns are where the mass produced elven goods would become truly important prestige items, with stories connected to the items passed down from the buyer about seeing the graceful elven ships and how he bought this plate of this carafe from an elven merchant and in this way tying the small village to the much bigger world out there. An elf visiting such a small town might not be seen as mythical as much as a truly exiting event where the “rich foreign people” your grandmother told about are suddenly here!

      As for greenskins I interpretate them as being a very, very real and very dangerous part of life in the empire, and dealing with the dangers of greenskin raids is something all communities in the empire must be prepared for, viewing them as myths would be considered foolish. Rooting out and destroying greenskin infestation before they grow out of hand Is something I see as being an important assignment for Road and Riverwardens given that WAAGHS earlier have not just cost the empire an Emperor and destroyed the province of Solland, but is also an important part of the empires founding myth. There is also the fact that stopping an orc WAAGH was one of the newly crowned Karl Franz first achievements and seems to be what the state armies seem to fight the most, when they are not fighting eachother
      I guess my take is that in my interpretation of the old world things that there are “clear evidence” of existing or having existed are for the most part considered as being real, you might not ever meet a black orc or an elf yourself, but the evidence of them existing is here in the form of the old retired roadwarden that could tell you how he lost his leg fighting the grenskins, or the really nice white plates and spoons that your mate brought back from the nearest big town while boasting about buying them from an elven merchant The different ways people interpret fantasy worlds are something I’ve always enjoyed and especially the more down to earth thing, like daily life and such.

  21. Fantatic right up and completely agree. IMO this version of the Old World that you describe is perhaps one of the best Fantasy campaigns ever invented, as it is human centric but there is *just enough weird to make it interesting and dynamic, and you are COMPLETELY correct about the upper classes vs the lower. It's such an interesting social dynamic that is missing from most DnD games.

  22. You don't know what England under James 1 was like or you don't know what Albion is like if you think they're supposed to be equivilent

    1. I think they're suggesting how they would frame Albion (England under James I), rather than thinking that the canon GW Albion is equivalent to Stuart England.

  23. Now I make me wonder what would the wicked city bei n warhammer, in a intersting way the whole city would look....nicer compare to many others like Naggaroth and Zhar garrund.

  24. I just want to say that this is an excellent post and I've recommended it to several other people who are asking for advise about running TEW.

  25. Yes.
    Though I personally see it as 16th century, not 17th. War of Religion in France, Dutch rebelling against Spain, START of conquering the New World, Queen Margot & Jolly King Henri, Gloriana aka Red Bess, most influential fencing textbooks, and all that beauty. ;)
    And one thing I seriously disagree with: no, Enlightenment DOESN'T start from periphery. No freaking PEter The Great before West European bureaucratic states formed as an inspiration for him. Ivan the Terrible, yes, possibly. Same with Sweden, etc. Actually, later-eds Bretonia - with, as I noted at the time of 6e WFB, worse technology than Orks ;) - is a possible backwater kingdom, like Scotland/Ireland irl. Though, of course, irl France and England were much more developed.
    And on High Elves/Sea Elves my headcanon was always that Old Worlders just don't meet any other kind except those guys - and gals - from Lothern, typically on the younger side, who come to the Old World to trade, or "politely" request pesky human ships to turn back from certain areas. They are MORE visible than Wood Elves, surely. But mainly in their trade factories in big ports. And all other cultures of Ulthuan are just unknown. Mages, yes, probably heard ABOUT Hoeth... ;)