What are the differences between the editions of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay?

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Edition CoverWarhammer Fantasy Roleplay (WFRP) has gone through a number of different publishers, many of whom have added their own flavour and touches to the system. The first edition of the game was released in 1986 by Games Workshop. It was based on their highly popular fantasy battles system and it gave players the opportunity to adventure in the plague and chaos ridden Warhammer world that they already knew well. The game is currently in its 3rd edition (having been licensed by Fantasy Flight Games) and has undergone its most significant changes to date. So the question has been asked, what are the differences, and which edition should I choose to play?

First and Second Edition

WFRP is a setting filled with lots of gore, with critical hits described in great detail, where death is not uncommon. There are, however, fate points which can save characters from death. The class system common in many RPG’s is replaced by a career system which opens up a lot of opportunities for development. In the first and second edition there are a lot of different weapons, each with special mechanics, a detailed grid-based combat system which includes dodging, parrying, different combat stances, separate armor location pieces and random hit locations. It is quite numeric, and almost exclusively uses d100 percentile rolls, where you’re trying to roll low. A nice feature is that the ability scores can generally be divided by 10 and you have a stat block for a hero in Warhammer Fantasy Battle – no role playing game significance, but a nice link to its roots.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd Edition CoverThe first edition, while an excellent game, had some significant flaws, namely the magic system and the famous ‘naked dwarf’ syndrome [if powergamed the right way, a naked dwarf was almost impossible to damage – he didn’t ‘have’ to be naked, but he could be if he wanted, and what dwarf is going to pass up that opportunity?]. When the game was republished by Hogshead Publishing in the 90’s these issues were not addressed. Many groups ‘house-ruled’ the more offensive of the problems, but at the end of the day some of the issues were to big to be handled this way.

In 2004 it was announced that Green Ronin would take over the publication of the game. They proceeded to work on the 2nd edition of the rules and attempted to fix a lot of the problems that had remained unaddressed in the previous edition. Their work remained close to the original concepts and system of the 1st edition and was generally speaking a much improved version. WFRP 2nd edition is what you expect from a gritty dark roleplaying game in the Warhammer world. It’s a classic d100 RPG system, with grid-based combat, that should come easily enough to experienced RPG players. The only essential purchase is a single core rulebook. The bestiary is quite nice addition too.

Third Edition

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd Edition CoverWarhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd edition by Fantasy Flight Games is a unique numbers-light system, that attempts to recreate the concepts of WFRP 1st/2nd edition, using special dice with only symbols, action cards and cardboard cut outs. They’ve clearly tried to simplify things, abstracting the combat and focusing on using the dice rolls and components as an aid to roleplaying. Some players may feel that there is a component overload, but others may enjoy this tactile aspect of the game. If you have only 3 players and a GM, you can easily play with just the Core Set box. With any more players, well, you’ll need to buy more stuff, or share stuff, to have enough components leading to an escalating cost per player.

In 3rd edition, a lot of the 2nd edition concepts were retained in name (careers, fortune points, talents, corruption, insanity, etc) but the mechanics are entirely different. Characters have Talents (mostly passive effects) and Actions (spells, blessings, special attacks, support, etc). There are fewer careers to choose from, but there is still a decent selection, and there are more in expansion modules. There is still a lot of gore, disease, corruption etc, but I’ve heard that it’s not quite as deadly as previous editions. Whilst I’ve only read about the system so far, I’d say that the mechanics of the combat system are much simplified, however there are a lot more combat options. Monsters of a common type are grouped and make a single attack roll. There is no combat grid – character position is roughly expressed in terms of engaged, close, medium, long and extreme range. Damage is not rolled for.

The most shocking change is its use of special dice, with NO NUMBERS, in a totally unified manner. The only dice rolls are characteristic or skill checks (including Weapon Skill for attacks), which basically tell you two things:

  1. Did you succeed or fail?
  2. Did a good or bad side effect occur?

There are good and bad dice, so modifiers add more dice, rather than adjusting the result.


We are playing WFRP 3rd edition as part of our Grand Gaming Experiment in May and we will have a full review of the system soon after in June. Having said that, our first impressions are that despite the seemingly simplified mechanics, there are a lot of things for players to track (stress, fatigue, wounds, recharge tokens, corruption, insanity, a hand full of talents and actions etc), so everyone (or at least the GM) will need to stay on the ball. Tracking all these things is done using components (cardboard cutouts and cards). These components do not come cheaply, and could dominate your snack space on the gaming table. It also remains to be seen if they will help or hinder roleplaying. We will, of course, talk about these issues in more detail after we have played the game for ourselves.


About Eetzoo

Ben started roleplaying after being introduced to Dungeons & Dragons at the age of 12. Since that time he has developed a passion for Warhammer Fantasy Battles where he commands a Dwarf army. He also plays an unhealthy amount of computer games. Before starting the Grand Gaming Experiment Ben had only played a handful of RPG's and he is currently enjoying the variety of trying many different games.
This entry was posted in Gaming, Role Playing Games, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
  • http://undergopher.com 8one6

    I played WHFRP 2e under an amazing GM who really made the system one of my favorites despite the drawbacks (I played a dwarf so I was ALWAYS going last in combat. It got so bad that I was bringing a book to read.) When Fantasy Flight brought out WHFRP 3e I imediately assumed that I was going to hate it. I cringe when I remember myself saying “they’ve turned it into a board game” in their booth at gencon. I’m glad to say that I was wrong. Another friend picked up the game and ran it for us. There were a few things that took a lot of getting used to (and I really disliked not being able to use my normal dice collection) but it lightened up the game a bit (the careers no longer felt like it was a race to get to champion) and they abstracted out combat to that it runs really quickly. The standees in the box are more for ease of keeping track of things and I LOVE the new initiative system that they implemented. I think the team cards (I can’t remember what they called them) helped to keep the group on task in a few occasions.
    I think that when you try the game out you’ll like it.

    • Anonymous

      Hey, thanks for your encouraging reply! I’m hopeful that our group will give it a fair go, despite first edition nostalgia. I’m looking forward to seeing how the streamlined combat plays out, because I would say that the amount of time spent on seemingly minor combats is probably the biggest complaint of all in our role playing sessions.

      I’m curious — did your party decide on their party/team card, or did the GM just suggest one in the campaign set up?

    • http://undergopher.com 8one6

      We looked at the party cards and decided as a group. I believe we went with “Brash Young Fools” because it fit our playing style (and the characters were all young and fools :-p).

    • Dwayne

      Interesting. So what “extras” do you need to purchase to effectively run the game – ie the special dice? tokens? cards? etc.

    • Anonymous

      Purely in terms of the component selection in the Core Set:
      The dice aren’t a major issue, as there are enough “special dice” in the Core Set for any single roll.

      The main limitations are:
      -1 of each career card (importantly meaning only one wizard and one priest)
      -3 each of the basic action cards (each player should have these)
      -1 each of every other action card
      -1 each of the talent cards
      -3 or 4 stance trackers (each player needs one)

      You can double all of the above by purchasing a Player’s Vault. I’ve picked one of these up for our group of 6.

      Some more minor limitations are:
      -2 each of the condition cards
      -70 wound cards (should be okay unless everyone is near death)
      -A limited number of the various tracking tokens.

      I can’t predict if these components are too limited, until we actually play.
      You can double them by purchasing a Game Master’s Vault.

    • Dwayne

      1 Wizard huh? I can see that creating a bit of an issue for some groups I’m familiar with :)

    • http://undergopher.com 8one6

      One thing my GM did was had us pick three careers at random and we got to choose which one to go with. It’s a decent way of getting people to play somewhat outside of their comfort zone.

    • Dwayne

      That doesn’t sound like a bad idea. I can see our group trying something a bit like that if and when we get to play it.

    • http://undergopher.com 8one6

      I would recommend picking up another set or two of the dice if you don’t want to do what we did as a group. After a few sessions we wanted to expand the group from 3 to 6 so the players (because the GM had bought the boxed set himself) bought a second copy of the boxed set. It gave us enough to run with the larger group we like to play with. I believe now you can just pick up a “player vault” if you want to add a player.

  • Pingback: Not excited about D&D Next? Then check out these cool alternatives…()

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Emerson/100002485258920 Paul Emerson

    I’ve loved 2nd Edition since I picked up the main book.  I now own
    all 27 books published for it, plus 2 books (1st ED Rules and Dwarfs
    Stone and Steel) and The Enemy Within (all 5 books) from 1st Edition.  I won’t even
    touch Dicehammer (3rd Edition), and oddly enough I am not a fan of
    Warhammer Fantasy Battles or 40k.  2nd Edition is just different enough
    from WFB to give it that unique sense.

    I began running a Play-by-Forum campaign in 1st Edition in ’03, and
    that’s been running off and on, and I was able to get a tabletop group
    together for another campaign in ’09, both campaigns of which are, at
    present, on hold.  The former because I’m revamping my web site, I need
    to convert the old phpBB database to the newer format, and then I intend
    to get that back up and running sometime after the first of the year,
    and hopefully before Spring.  The second campaign is going to be rolled
    into the overall game I’m running with my Legend of Goe Orthrond folks. 
    Between now and then, my teen sons and I are building the bridge
    between the two campaigns, and then we’ll be using a combination of
    Play-by-Forum and Roll 20, since most of those participating in the
    campaign are spread all over the States and the world, to complete the campaigns.

    For any who might be interested, you can see everything I’ve got up, now, for Warhammer at http://www.wolvesau.net/wh
    .  It’s a work in progress, and I’ll be starting on getting more
    characters up soon.  For my games, I use the optional rules by Liber
    Fanatica, and all of the Careers from the Compendium, plus my
    Buia-Druadan, which I just finished putting up this afternoon.  I also
    use an optional system for dealing with combat, which you can see here
    -> http://www.wolvesau.net/wh/characters/athaeis/skilltalentlisting.php#combatactions
    , and are welcome to adopt to your own games if you find it feasible. 
    It’s a bit more difficult to use, but once you and your players are used
    to it, the flow of combat makes a LOT more sense and actually turns out
    to be far-less clunky.

    Finally, I absolutely love the setting the game is in, right now.  Just-post-Storm of Chaos is absolutely perfect for being able to build intrigue and a sense of danger into my players, so they’ll play appropriately.  The Legend of Goe Orthrond campaign actually began in 1st Edition, so it’s 2503 on the Imperial Calendar, while Aid for Roezfels began in 2nd Edition’s 2522 IC, so there’s some business to take care of between the two campaigns.

    Well, I’m new to this community, and I’m glad to be here, and I look forward to participating more.

  • Pingback: Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: The New Thing In MMORPG Tabletop Gaming | Sad Gamer()