Warhammer 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.
The 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.
Warhammer 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:
- Did you succeed or fail?
- 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.