Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The Golden Tune, or, the Economics of Busking in WFRP1e

I once had players generate new characters and each one ended up with the Dance skill. They could earn more money as a dance troupe, busking on the streets of Nuln, than they could by engaging in the kind of dirt-grubbing adventures that starting WFRP characters often find themselves. And the GCs they’d collect by dancing in the street would far outstrip anything they could hope to earn from steady employment.

Musicless Dancing in the Street

At least, that is how I remember it. But is it true?

First, let’s consider player character subsistence. A character who can afford it must spend 7/- per day on food, though he or she could stave off starvation by spending as little as 3/-. There are, of course(!) 8 days in an Imperial week. This means that characters ought to be spending 56/- a week on food (a minimum of 24/-). A bed in the common room of an inn would set them back another 24/-, giving us a weekly subsistence of 80/-, or 4 GCs, per week. Or, if our character foregoes the bed (spending just 16/- on floor space) and eats very badly, 40/- (2GCs).

What can a player character earn in a ‘steady’ job? 60/- (3GCs) per week as an artisan, 30/- (1GC 10/-) as an entertainer, 42/- (2GCs 2/-) as a labourer, and just 3/- per week as a servant, though free board and lodgings in provided in that case. I know the Old World is grim and perilous, and life for the working classes isn’t bread and roses, but we must presume that the subsistence costs given above are for itinerant adventurers. It would, of course, be very expensive living in even the cheapest hotel and eating out for every meal. An entertainer must be able to survive on 30/- a week, even if they can’t live well, and an artisan must have an appreciably better standard of living. We can assume that a character with a ‘permanent’ home and preparing his or her own food can get by at the wage rates listed. Still, there isn’t much money to be made is honest labour. And that is if the character can find work – finding these jobs is subject to an Employment test!*

But what about busking? A busking character makes a test against Fellowship every hour. Success = D4+1 GCs (average 3.5 GCs), failure = D6 shillings (average 3.5/-), and a failure by more than 30% = trouble. Let’s say that a character busks for 5 hours every day, for a total of 40 hours busking a week. Let’s also say that the busking character has a Fel of 30%, the average for a starting character. Having a skill such as Dance allows the character a +10% bonus to Busk tests. So, over 40 hours busking a character will have 16 successful hours, 12 unsuccessful hours, and 12 hours being hassled by rowdy locals, moved on by watchmen, etc. If the character can stand the 12 hours of ‘trouble’, he or she will collect an average of 56GC (over the good hours) and 42/- (the bad hours). Or 58GCs 2/-!

Oh, the trouble? These are player characters we are talking about. If they have survived even the introductory adventure they will have killed a handful of cultists and a demonic monster! Rowdy locals? Watchmen? Worth the hassle for nearly 60GCs a week.

So I wasn’t misremembering. And that is why players in my games spent a lot of the time busking, and very little adventuring.

*It does appear that these wage rates are for a 6 day working week, with the authors forgetting that they had made the Imperial week 8 days long. But, even adding an extra day's wages... 

Friday, 2 October 2015

Playing: Chaos in the Old World

Power Gaming. The epitome of power gaming is surely playing a god. No? But even gods have restrictions, and in the case of the Ruinous Powers of the Warhammer settings, the nature of their portfolios binds their actions and ambitions far more tightly than the fates of any mortal.

Or something like that.

Before we began a protracted house move we played a few games of Chaos in the Old World. We'd bought D the game for his birthday quite a few years ago, but it never seemed to make it onto our table. It seemed, at a glance at least, to be so complex, and so full of components, and so there was always something familiar, or less fiddly to learn, or, or, or...

But then we did get the game onto the table, and we found it to be much more straightforward than we had feared. We were helped by the fact that - as we now embrace the 21st century - we were able to have a copies of the rules summary sheets produced by the Esoteric Order of Gamers as well as copies of the rules on each of our iPads. That didn't entirely stop C trying to put the wrong tokens in the wrong spaces at the wrong time, or the need for the creation of a new meta-rule for our group. We already have established that if C asks if it his turn, it almost certainly is his turn. Now, we have it that if I ask if it is my turn, it almost certainly isn't.

This must be a sign of my failing mental faculties, as Chaos in the Old World is a tightly structured game.

What makes this game really good, and provides plenty of replay value, is that each of the 'factions' - Khorne, Nurgle, Tzeentch, and Slaanesh - have different ways of winning, although they all can win by amassing victory points by taking part in the general ruination of the Old World. Khorne advances its Victory Dial by killing things (obviously), Nurgle by using its cultists to corrupt the highly populous regions, Tzeentch by corrupting regions which contain warpstone or magic, and Slaanesh by corrupting regions in which nobles or heroes reside. So each Ruinous Power has a distinct set of interests, which involves tangential rather than direct competition with that of the other Powers. This also means that if you want to deliberately frustrate your opponents you have to understand what  it is that their faction has to do in order to win, and sometimes to sacrifice the pursuit of your own goals to ensure that the power of a particular rival doesn't grow too great. 

Well, that's true for all the Powers except Khorne, which can be played in just as boneheadedly brutal a fashion as you would expect from the Blood God. And this is a good thing, as the rules capture the fiction of the Ruinous Powers - this isn't just Risk: Chaos Gods, after all - but it is the case that in our three games so far, Khorne has won XZ times. This is because, in killing the cultists of other Powers, Khorne advances its own Victory Dial while preventing its rivals from corrupting the Old World. Plus, Khorne has a couple of 'f- you!' Chaos Cards that can prevent any new Corruption Tokens being placed in a particular region, which can seriously handicap the ambitions of the other Powers. As if killing off their cultists wasn't enough. 

Khorne, therefore, is the easiest to play, but I have a suspicion that when more experienced players take control of the other Powers they will be able to frustrate Khorne - moving cultists away from its murderous minions, using magic to prevent battles from taking place, and so on. But they'd have to be disciplined in the early rounds, as once Khorne has moved its Victory Dial round a handful of 'ticks', even its mere cultists - the cheapest piece in its retinue of minions - become able combatants. As long as one of the other Ruinous Powers is played by an inexperienced player, Khorne will have plenty of opportunities to end the Old World in a tide of blood and gore.

So, there is plenty of replay value is rotating the role of the Ruinous Powers, and in learning to adapt to both playing a particular Power, and in frustrating the ambitions of the other Ruinous Powers with the capabilities afforded by each distinct role. But there is also tremendous replay value in the Old World Deck, which creates a series of randomised events which create new conditions and rules. In our first game, for example, killing peasants seemed to be continually rewarded. In the second there were outbreaks of Skaven activity - which lowers the Resistance of regions making it easier for a Power to Dominate a region and win victory points - and a wave of Heroes, who killed off minions belonging to the Power with the highest Threat. But while these were very different games, and while we had rotated seats to play different Powers, I got a very real sense that our understanding of the subtleties of the game was growing, producing more a more satisfying game as a result.

And, importantly, a keen anticipation of the next game.

Documents: Rulebook, FAQ/Errata (Fantasy Flight Games), Rules Summary (Esoteric Order of Gamers).

Friday, 21 August 2015


On my more general blog I recently wrote about my experience of 'getting' D&D having some experience of the scale (and extremes) of American geography. Ed Dove offered a very interesting reply/addendum on G+, which is that to get D&D's take on fantasy you really also have to check out that other icon on American geography, this time entirely synthetic - Disneyland. I'd quote from it, but I'd end up reproducing Ed's comment more of less in its entirety, so I'll simply link to it here.

Suffice to say, I think he's got a point, but what does this have to do with Warhammer? Well, Ed's observation has been made at a particularly opportune time, as Banksy opens Dismaland in Weston-Super-Mare. And Dismaland is to Disneyland, what WFRP is to D&D*; a reflection of the classic tropes distorted by black humour and political cynicism.

[Photograph by Yui Mok/PA, via the Guardian. Not trying to steal the picture, just using it for illustration, please visit the Guardian article to ensure that the proper licensees get their due web-hits.]

*Not all D&D is 'Disneyland American Fantasy'. As the OSR proves, the basic D&D engine is incredibly versatile and capable of handling all manner of genres.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Website: MadAlfred's WFRP Page

MadAlfred is Alfred Nunez Jr., a well-known figure in the WFRP community. One of those writers whose work spans both professional and fan publications, a glance at MadAlfred's webpage would tell you that this man breathes Warhammer, and despite his 4500 Citadel Miniatures, WFRP1e is his oxygen.

He's a representative example of the fact that there is significant overlap between WFRP's writers and WFRP's fans, players, and GMs. This isn't the case with all RPGs, especially with licensed properties being published in big, glossy book, which can often be the product of work-for-hire writers. And there is nothing wrong with that - professional writers gotta eat, and professional writers are professional - but it is a phenomenon that gives the 'dead' game of WFRP (and now the 'dead' setting of the Warhammer World!) some of the vitality found in the OSR, in which the distinction between players and producers is non-existent, in which real-life play, rather than play-testing, is producing some amazing gaming material. WFRP fan-culture chugs along slowly but surely. Actually, given the abandonment of both system and setting, 'fan' is the wrong word, it diminishes the contribution of WFRP players and GMs, reducing them to consumers... of what? Perhaps player-culture would be more appropriate.

MadAlfred's site is jam-packed with articles, maps and gazetteers, and perhaps most importantly a number of large and small-scale adventures. 

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Too much change/Not enough change

Right. It is about time that I weighed on the big debate about changes in Warhammer. I've had plenty of time to consider the rules and setting material.

WFRP2e didn't go far enough! I'm not talking about the system, which included improvements over that of 1e, while remaining close enough to the original for the two games to be speaking dialects of a common language. No, I'm talking about changes to the setting.

WFRP2e's Old World is an immediately post-war setting. And not just any war, but an apocalyptic war that depopulated vast areas and shattered political and social structures. And this is a world in which there are dark things in the forest, inhuman powers to turn to in desperation, etc. 

I know that some of the adventures add a few post-war details, but the feel of the thing is not one in which WFRP2e feels like it ought be played as Twighlight: 2522? Why isn't the whole of the eastern Empire up for grabs for armed men and women with the will to take it? Why doesn't the setting feel like Mad Max crossed with post-Black Death Europe? Why, for all the death and destruction, for all the population=0 in the gazetteers, does the WFRP2e Old World feel more structured and stable than that of WFRP1e? 

For one, it is simply much more detailed. Exhaustively detailed. I own nearly every book for WFRP 1e and 2e, and the 2e setting details are not just exhaustive, they are exhausting! They are some really well produced books, but they are so full of detail that it literally tires me out. Perhaps this is because I read these book as a GM, constantly thinking about the way in which I can incorporate these details into actual play.

But what of this detailed setting itself. Well, remember that the reason the setting of the RPG was changed was to keep it in line with the wargame. A wargame of Emperors riding Griffons and in which every other Graf is nigh-on a superhero, rather than ordinarly weak men, corruptible politicians in a dirty, confusing world. But that's not all of it. Classic D&D has rulership and personal combat/magical ability pretty tightly woven together, and yet built into Classic D&D is also the idea of the lawless, unstructured frontier ripe for adventure - in fact, this implied setting justifies the link between personal ability and rulership. No, being tied to the wargame seemed to demand a setting in which the lines between 'factions' were solid, and the factions themselves were solid - how else could these political entities survive in a world of endless war? Just like the structure of a television show, while it is acceptable to have disruptive events, by episode end the status quo must be restored.

Oh, Age of Sigmar? As Zhou Enlai supposedly said of the French Revolution, 'It's too soon to say'. I'll get back to you in a decade.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

One Less Dimension

This blog has been silent for a while as I have been in the US. When I arrived home I had a little present waiting for me - a huge box of Warhammer (fantasy and 40K) books sent to me by +Daniel Sell. I will have to work out a way to compensate him... More on that later. 

Games Workshop used to bill their big boxed games as 3-D Roleplay. Not just Advanced Heroquest, Advanced Space Crusade and Space Hulk, but also such games as Space Marine (the second incarnation of the Epic rules). In a way, I'd like to rehabilitate the term 3-D Roleplay, to stress the kind of characterful, narrative, scenario-driven (and GM 'refereed') games that is the opposite end of the miniature gaming hobby to that occupied by Mathhammer competitive play. 3-D Roleplay could be seen as, at least, closely related to the values espoused in the Oldhammer Contract.

Thing is, I'm a busy man, with kids, something like a career, &c. Miniatures? As the lady says, "Ain't nobody got time for that!" Yes, I can eke a few hours with the daylight bulb here, a few there, and I will slowly but surely put together and paint the Assassinorum miniatures, but with all the games that I want to play...

And I'd rather play than paint or model. The game is the thing.

A while back I got Commands & Colours: Ancients. I think it is a fantastic game. I immediately wished that there was a fantasy version, a Warhammer version even. And yes, there is Battlelore, which to my mind is less elegant, both mechanically and aesthetically. But C&C planted in my mind the idea that I would be very happy with a 'de-miniaturized' Warhammer wargame. If not quite 2-D, then at the very least a little more... flat.

And this has been sitting in my cupboard. A game that filled Sundays (and dinner tables) of my later school days. 

And then +Daniel Sell sends me this:

I had toyed with the ambition (the fantasy) of using Hordes of the Things (or Warhammerised DBA) to run a campaign of Mighty Empires. And I still might. But Warmaster could also be a suitable companion. Eminently suitable, as they share the same underlying fiction.

But for someone who 'aint't got time for that', how could this fantasy even come close to being realized. Paper miniatures. Paper armies. Thankfully, someone else has done the work for me.

If we hadn't just 'Freecycled' our clunky old printer, and having been forbidden from buying a new one until our house move is complete... But paper miniatures? Yes, I can see these being a large part of my future gaming. 2-D+ Roleplay.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Unboxing: Assassinorum

So we open the surprisingly heavy box and we find:

The weight of the box is in these really heavy duty card game boards.

These look really sturdy, and I'd imagine they will stand up to quite a lot of play. Despite the fact that they don't have 'jigsaw' lugs to join the boards together, their weight and size will help prevent the boards slipping hither and thither.

And a solid set of counters.

But the meat of things is, of course, the 23 miniatures. In value for money terms, this works out at just over £3 per miniature, which seems pretty good when compared [what I imagine to be] Games Workshop's pricing, and isn't too bad when considered miniatures more generally. But imagination is deceptive, especially when you are trapped in the past. 5 Chaos Cultists? £6. 10 Chaos Space Marines? £23.50. And so on. And, of course, in the Assassinorum box you don't get to choose which 23 miniatures you get for your cash. So what do you get?

Well, you get three sprues of Chaos Cultists:

A Chaos Space Marine Sprue:

A Chaos Sorcerer Lord/Terminator Lord Sprue:

And, of course, four individual Assassin Sprues (each standing on their own bit of scenery):

These are standard contemporary GW sprues, which means lots of bits and bobs, assembly required. To my mind GW have missed a trick here. If they had produced push-together miniatures, people could buy this game for casual gamers, and even dedicated hobbyists could be playing the same day that they buy the game. As soon as a game needs glue, clippers, &c., you've got a game that simply will not sell to casual gamers, and if it does, it will sit, unassembled and unplayed in a cupboard. I know that in recent years GW have sold push-together Chaos Space Marines, and so it shouldn't have been too difficult to find that compromise between accessibility (getting the game up and running on the day of purchase) and miniature quality (the taste of the plastic crack that keeps 'em coming back). Ah, but I'm not in charge of GW's strategy department - if I was their stores would at least sell FFG Warhammer licensed products.

But then I can (only just, admittedly) remember when all these shelves were Call of Cthulhu and RuneQuest, and when White Dwarf were a general roleplaying magazine. But tell that to the kids these days...

We'll have to wait until I get back from my work trip to the States to get these little men put together and on the table.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Website: Winds of Chaos

Winds of Chaos is a 'dead' site, in so much that it doesn't seem to have been updated since 2011, and that was only an 'I ain't dead' post, the first since 2009. Nevertheless, the site is still up, and contains a wealth of resources useful for any WFRP player, and perhaps useful to any Warhammer Fantasy Battle player keen to put a put of 'narrative' and bring a bit of setting depth to their campaigns. You know, to make the miniature game the wargame/role-playing game hybrid that was the suggested by WFB1e (and, some time later, Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader).

Probably the most useful content on the site is that produced by Dave Graffam - maker of fantastic paper model kits - under the tab 'Encroachment', including a 26 page expanded character creation booklet for WFRP2e. This is perhaps more than you might want, but it tells you something of the quality and depth of the resources. I also think that the WFRP Treasure Generator is a wonderful piece of work, useful in nearly any FRPG that requires a quick system of finding out 'what has it got in its pocketses'. In fact, the WFRP2e folder on my PC contains a sub-folder which I have called 'Dave Graffam's Excellent Resources', and I'm not sure I have any other folder whose title contains a superlative. So that says something.

The comprehensive set of maps of the Old World, by Andreas Blicher (based on work by Alfred Nunez Jr., with Dave Graffam providing some graphic design on the 'parchment' versions), are also a must-have for any WFRP GM.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Codices as 'Lore'?

The other day, I posted about the way that I have collected a bunch of obsolete WFB Army Books to act as a cheap source of information about the Warhammer world. Thinking now about the Warhammer 40K universe/s, does anyone have any opinions as to which are the best iteration of obsolete Codices, with the best being those that contain plenty of 'fluff', evocative art, etc. that could be used as - at the very least - inspirational material for 40K role-playing?

Kelvin Green, in the G+ comments on that post, said that while he was happy to draw on latter WFB material for his WFRP games, "40K is a bit different and I'd say my Rogue Trader game had more, er, Rogue Trader influence than anything more recent."

I was of the same mind, when (nearly 4 years ago!! Gah!) I picked up FFG's Rogue Trader RPG. But the additional books are so very expensive these days. I would love to pick up the Book of the Astronomican and the Warhammer 40,000 Compilation, to slot alongside my rulebook and W40K Compendium. Oh, and I dream of getting hold of the 'classic' Ork books: Waaagh!, Ere we Go, and Freebooterz, but my magic money tree is only of a modest size. That said, I understand that the FFG Rogue Trader supplement Into the Storm has some information on playing Orks, and the writer of that section, Sam Stewart, makes plain the debt he owes to the earliest W40K material

But back to my original question. Are any of the [cheap] obsolete Codices (or other supplements) a good place to go for W40K role-playing 'lore'?

Opinions welcome.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Army Books as 'Lore': Tilea in Dogs of War

A while back, once there were no more WFRP1e books to buy - that I could afford anyway - I decided to turn my compulsive book buying towards Warhammer Fantasy Battle 'Army Books'. I had spotted that the WFB4e and WFB5e Army Books were selling on eBay for a quid or two, often in batches. Obsolete in terms of rules, outdated in terms of setting, but not entirely useless to a WFRP GM interested in fleshing out the world.

Here, let me show you.

Excepting the 'gems', I'd guess I barely paid a tenner for these, all in. While WFRP players cling dearly to 'outdated' books, and sneer disdainfully at the new, WFB players ruthlessly abandon the obsolete, it seems. Of course, one way to understand this is that WFB players need to find opponents who share their rules, while GMs impose their rules upon hapless WFRP players.

Anyway, the 'gems' in this little collection are White Dwarf Presents: Chaos Dwarfs and Dogs of War.

In fact, Dogs of War is my favourite Army Book. It doesn't really matter how good, say, the Elf or Dwarf Army Books might be, as the material is so familiar, having been recycled and regurgitated so many times through each edition of the game. And the Empire? Well, any WFRP GM has better material detailing the Empire than he or she might find in an Empire Army Book. And that is even if I were to cleave to a higher fantasy conception of the Warhammer world than that of The Enemy Within. But Dogs of War? In Dogs of War I can find bits and pieces about the lands beyond the Empire, about Tilea, Estalia and beyond. There is so little 'official' material about these places; Brian Craig's Zaragoz, a brief mention in the WFRP1e rulebook's World Guide, a bit of material in the WFRP2e Companion, and so on, but where else? Dogs of War fills in a few of the gaps, and provides the bones, or at least a sketchy outline, of something that I, as GM, can fill.

The background of each regiment (not all of which are Tilean - there are details on Golfag's Ogres, Long Drong Slayer's Pirates, Al Muktar's Desert Dogs, &c.) and  is full of small details that could easily be incorporated into a WFRP game:

The fact that Dogs of War regiments are accompanied by all manner of 'special characters', not all of which are wham-bam! heroes or wizards, means that the book contains the foundations of very interesting and colourful NPCs - possibly patrons to the adventurers; the genius Leonardo da Miragliano (and his 'scientific' items), Lucrezzia Belladonna, a ruthless, politically powerful sorceress, Marco Columbo, 'discoverer' of Lustria, &c.

The history and social structure of Tilea is also discussed - and a timeline is provided - which, as the Tileans are notable explorers, includes passing discussion of other parts of the Warhammer world.

Of course, there are WFRP community developed resources detailing the world beyond the Empire, but more of that another time.

p.s. I notice that, in Dogs of War, Games Workshop asserts that such pre-existing terms as Grail Knight, Knight Errant, and, laughably, Skink, are Trademarks. In the contemporaneous Brettonia book, GW make the same claim for Chivalry! 

Assassinorum: Execution Force

Father's Day. 

The reason why I have no time to paint, and little to play, is also the reason why I receive an extra round of presents each year, including various bits of gaming paraphernalia from my spawn. Of course, if I didn't have astronomically high nursery fees, and the bill for food and clothes, I could spend my wages like they were water, but there's only so far such horrible, resentful cynicism will take you. So yesterday we took a trip down to the amazing 'new' Firestorm Games (honestly, it is a cathedral to gaming) and I picked out a shortlist of three games. My two children and my wife then voted, and it wasn't Relic (Talisman in Spaaaace!), nor was it Forbidden Stars (a W40K remake of the StarCraft boardgame), but Games Workshop's newest in-house foray into the world of self-contained games, Assassinorum: Execution Force, that they chose. My youngest liked the skull on the box. Ahhh, how sweet. 

Did you see a theme to my shortlist?

So, before I unbox this beauty, and weep at my hubris, thinking that the 23 miniatures represent a small, do-able task, lets see what the Old Testament has to say about Assassins. From the Book of Priestley, pages 170-171.

Verily, for here is written the truth!

I had a look inside the box on a recent trip to my local Games Workshop. I gently teased the manager by remarking that it reminded me of Space Crusade. Or perhaps I was just being a dick. But it does remind me of Space Crusade. Aside from being a self-contained 40K themed board game, it also has Chaos Space Marines, which in my imagination are indelibly linked to the not-quite-as-successful as Heroquest collaboration between Milton Bradley and Games Workshop. Space Crusade might not have been the first place that I ever saw Chaos Space Marines, but it was while playing Space Crusade seemingly endlessly that I saw that distinctive shape over and over and over again. 

I tell you what, that horrible cynic in me thinks that what might well have swung it when it came to my wife's vote is that Assassinorum can be played solo. Hah! Actually, being for 1-4 players playing co-operatively makes it a welcome change from the adversarial board games that populate my cupboards. I hope that there is something in the rules or mechanics to avoid the know-it-all (i.e. me) 'coaching' (to put is politely) all the other players, but I guess I ought to be grown up enough, what with being a dad and all, to play nicely with others. 

Expect a full description soon, as well as a play report. Even if there is just one player.  

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Website: Strike to Stun

Over the next few weeks I'll be populating my links gadget with Warhammer blogs and sites. The first one that I should add is the venerable Strike to Stun. The forums are still fairly active - I ought to take a greater part in the discussions, though I have popped up from time to time - which is some achievement given the decline of forums in the face of more recent developments in social media. Such as blogs. And Google+. And, and, and...

Anyhow, Strike to Stun's Warhammer General Discussion (53 posts active in 2015), WFRP 1st edition (20 posts active in 2015), and WFRP 2nd edition (40 posts active in 2015) are all places of ongoing discussion of roleplaying the Warhammer world. There are also a number of less busy, but still active forums discussing WFRP3e, general roleplaying &c., and - and this is sure to be a topic of several further post - Zweihander, the clone-in-spirit of WFRP.  

Strike to Stun also used to have a website, a collection of useful downloads, including, if I remember rightly, a web-zine, &c. All that appears to be left - and I am happy to be corrected - is the forum.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Career Compendium Web Enhancement

This is merely an addendum to yesterday's post, about the high regard with which I hold the Career Compendium. It was pointed out to me that there exists a web enhancement for the Career Compendium, correcting the entries and exits, and presenting them in an easy to consult 8 page booklet.

[This pdf is hosted by the WFRP blog Another Caffeinated Day]

Thursday, 18 June 2015

More Than the Sum of its Parts - Giving it 160%

I thought that a suitable first post would be one that discusses one of my favourite WFRP books. It isn't the WFRP 1st edition rulebook. It is not one of the parts of The Enemy Within campaign. It is not even either of the Realms of Chaos books, which, if my shelf ordering 'system' is anything to go by, are WFRP books, not Warhammer Fantasy Battle. No, it is a book that exemplifies the way in which WFRP can be so much more than the sum of its parts.

More than the sum of its parts. That could describe WFRP, pretty much. It wouldn't be entirely unfair to suggest that it has a 'clunky' system, or that it has an undeniably derivative setting - complete with avaricious, drunk Dwarfs in the mountains here, haughty, magical Elves in the forests there, even jolly Halflings in an idyllic Shire (sorry, Moot). It would certainly be true that both system and setting were built on the foundations of a wargame, which, while Warhammer Fantasy Battle 1st edition (the White Box) did describe itself as a 'mass combat role-playing game', means that the foundations were built to serve a different purpose to that which they were eventually put. Despite all this, WFRP is a role-playing game that has had a much greater effect - indeed affect - on players and GMs than the combination of these ingredients would suggest.

My choice of book to exemplify the way in which WFRP can be far more than the sum of its parts will probably be surprising, given my grognardly ways. I'm going to talk about one of the polished, focussed books [over-]produced by Fantasy Flight Games during their brief tenure as the publishers of WFRP2e - the Career Compendium. In fact, it was the very final book produced for WFRP2e!

More than the sum of its parts? Yes indeed. This book is at least 80% 'crunch'. It shares much, at first glance, with the kind of books that other systems might call something like 'Player's Options'. You know, the type of splatbook that details new classes, powers, &c. In the Career Compendium, we find that 230 of just over 250 pages are dedicated to describing the mechanical details of careers. Yes, I know that strictly, if every bit of those pages were crunch, that would make for something like 92%, but...

But the Career Compendium is also 80% 'fluff', bebacuse the fluff is so thoroughly integrated into the crunch of the career system. The career system of WFRP is constitutive of the Warhammer RPG setting. Even if we strip out the wonderful 'fluffy' details, such as 'A Day in the Life' sections, and the adventure seeds provided for each and every career, we are still left with the mechanical nuts and bolts - the advance scheme, the skills, talents, trappings, entries and exits - which, alone, tells us a great deal about the world. This crunch does so in a way in which, for instance, the deliberately (and invaluably) generic system of Classic D&D's class and levels simply does not. Classes work best, I feel, as role archetypes, not concrete descriptions of a character's social and economic position. Now, in the OSR there are interesting exercises in revealing the implied setting of D&D, deriving this world from the class system, the level names, the random encounter tables, the treasure tables, &c. See, for example, the fantastic work done by Chris Kutalik. But this is implied setting, and relatively covertly implied at that. The diversity of games that we ran using Classic D&D and the like, and that we now run using Swords & Wizardry and Labyrinth Lord &c., suggests that these implications are easy enough to ignore. And easy enough to omit by ignorance, rather than design. There is no such possibility with WFRP - if you want to ignore what the system tells you that the world consists of, you have to consciously decide to do so. This is even true if you were to run a game of WFRP, based solely on the first edition rulebook and ignoring Chapter 7: The World Guide. Treat the Warhammer world as just another sample setting, and you will still find that the career system contains a great many assumptions about the way the world works and what it is to be an 'adventurer', assumptions that add colour to any game of WFRP.     

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

So what is it?

This blog is titled "Freedom in an Owned World", borrowing the title of Stephen Baxter's essay published in Vector on the subject of writing fiction for Games Workshop in the late 1980s and the 1990s. I mean no offence by borrowing the title; in fact, a discussion of writing captures my ambivalence about gaming in the Warhammer [propriety] universes, using Warhammer [propriety] rulesystems. We live in an age of vibrant Open Source Roleplaying. Isn't there something terrifically attractive about gaming in your own world, or a truly shared world, using an 'open source' rule system shared by thousands of others? Engaging in a system of free exchange, with limited commercialisation driven by, and rewarding, hobbyists? Gaming with no barriers to sharing and even semi-professionally publishing the products of your explorations of the fantastic? Yes, there is! Undoubtedly so. The OSR is full of vibrant creativity.

But just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.

Warhammer always reels me back in. In it's mild form, the pull back to Warhammer is the way in which its setting/s colour/s my non-Warhammer gaming. I make life difficult for my players and their PCs. I avoid any hint that playing an RPG is about wish-fulfillment - unless the players are masochists, or they want to play one. I present worlds in which it is difficult to see what 'doing the right thing' might be, and even then, whatever it is often involves doing 'bad things'. I write self-deprecating rants such as The Pathetic Aesthetic.

But this blog will be about the stronger form of this involuntary cycle of behaviour; about the times when Warhammer has caught my imagination on a steel hook and an unbreakable line, when it pulls and pulls until I find that I have the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Edition rulebook in my hands, and find that I am excited by the prospect of playing as I did in the early 1990s. This blog will be the place where I write about Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st and 2nd edition, where, perhaps, I describe my exploration - as yet un-begun - of Fantasy Flight Games' Warhammer 40,000 RPGs, and, who knows, maybe even find the time and space to dig out the old miniatures for some '3D Roleplay', as Games Workshop used to call it.