PrinceofNothingReviews: Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Pt. II: Systems

Posting has been a bit slow. New job, long hours, frequent holidays and so on. I will attempt to speed it up somewhat.

The actual rules behind Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying are pretty neat and intuitive. Are you ready? Okay! Almost everything is handled by an ability score roll. You roll a d100 and if you roll under your ability you succeed. In extreme cases (i.e the lock you are picking is of exceptionally fine quality), the test is made against double or half your ability score. Of particular (fun, excellent) note is the classification that failing by more then 20% means things have gone seriously Apeshit and more then 30% means they have gone, to paraphrase the rulebook, Nightmarishly Wrong.

Can’t choose whether something is a Strength or a Toughness test? Bitch take the average of both and roll against that!

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying represents a departure or perhaps an evolution from the DnD proficiency based system in that there are rules governing a variety of tasks one can perform, even if one is not skilled in them. You would need the Metallurgy skill to forge a complex alloy or identify a rare vein of ore, but it makes sense that anyone can try to hide in the bushes, haggle over the price of a sword or climb a tree (something that pissed me off about the proficiency system in DnD Basic), a skill just means you have a higher chance of success.

This section is actually really good and detailed, covering the majority of situations that are likely to come up in a fantasy roleplaying game that still very recognizably draws from Dungeons & Dragons, despite the trappings of a percentage based resolution system (as Chris Hogan notes in his excellent B/X WHF OSR hack Small but Vicious Dog). Effective bribery guidelines are given (it goes without saying that bribery is easier if your target is evil or chaotic), rules for constructing things out of wood and stone (have you ever had a campaign where your pcs were not constantly constructing barricades in your dungeon?), gathering information, disease, insanity, concealment, detecting and disarming traps and so on. Pick pocket and Open Locks may be attempted by anyone, but with a -30% penalty if you are not skilled at it, virtually guaranteeing failure.
Another interesting bit of streamlining: A great deal of dangerous actions, from rappelling down a rope to driving an ox-cart without specific knowledge, simply provoke a risk test, with a flat 50% chance of something going horribly wrong and the character taking a fixed amount of damage.

I like it that in most cases, determining the difficulty of these tests is left up to the GM, with only general guidelines being given to determine the specific difficulty, maintaining that delicate alchemy between GM and ruleset that is so vital to a good rpg.

Another departure from traditional DnD is the lack of resurrection magic. If your characters die they are permanently dead. This is a positive change in my opinion, since the ability to raise people from the dead wreaks havoc with the verisimilitude of the campaign, unless it is so rare as to be virtually unavailable to all but the most legendary heroes. Instead your characters get Fate Points. Whenever your character would suffer a result that would kill him outright, he loses a Fate Point instead. Fate points cannot be replenished, making them the equivalent of extra lives.

WHF uses the same structure for game time as DnD, with minor differentation. A round is 10 seconds and a turn is 1 minute, but otherwise the concept remains the same.

The section on movement is alright; there is a difference between Running, Standard and Cautious movement. Converting your movement skill into an actual speed that may be covered in a round is fairly intuitive. Cautious movement is your movement skill times two, Standard times 4 and Run speed is times 16. A great explanation is given for the relatively slow movement speed in dungeons (a frequent griping point for Dnd players); If you do not move cautiously in the narrow, dark and claustrophobic underground areas, you are forever tripping over broken pavement, banging your heads on beams and getting in eachothers way. Characters in WHFR MAY move faster in dungeons, but this provokes a Risk test. In similar fashion, with a nodd to Warhammer Fantasy Battles, some terrain counts as Difficult, meaning that you risk taking damage if you cross it rapidly (stairways, steep slopes, debris etc,).

I could go further into the specific treatment of rope climbing, three different types of flying creatures, swimming or jumping but suffice it to say, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying covers an astonishing variety of actions and situations with admirable brevity and reasonable efficiency. It strives towards completeness, rather then merely providing the essentials and trusting the GM to extrapolate from there. Want to destroy a building? Covered. Burning Oil? Fuck yes (powerful as fuck but dangerous to use).

I should work towards some sort of synthesis but the diversity and depth of the rules sometimes defies easy summation. A good example is the poison rules. It is absolutely possible to make and utilize poison in WHFR, although it requires special skills and a financial investment. You can then prepare your poison as an additive (to slip in someone’s drink, with a fixed chance of detection modified by the amount of poison (oh yes the amount matters!) or you can prepare Blade Venom (good for d4 hours and one hit), which is a wasteful process and thus requires double the cost and ingredients. Here is where it gets interesting. Poisons have different effects depending on how many doses a target is exposed to, with a number of effects ranging from drowsiness to Death! Extra heavy metal credits awarded for poison names like Manbane, Blackroot and Graveroot.

To add to the grimdarkness we also have rules for diseases! Diseases suck. Old time medievally favorites like the Black Plague and the Red Pox make their dread appearance, their effects being of a generally unpleasant and lethal nature with a chance of permanent stat loss even upon survival.

No Warhammer game would be complete without rules for Insanity. As you brave the perils of the Grimdark world of Warhammer Fantasy you become exposed to myriad terrors that have a deleterious effect upon mind and soul. Characters gain insanity points when confronting these bastards, with each six points leading to a random disorder from the mental disorder table. Kleptomania, Hatred, Manic Depression and so on. Curing these disorders involves either 16th century brain surgery with possibly deleterious effects such as insanity, intelligence loss or death, or treatment via elixirs and drugs, which suppresses the insanity but might also go catastrophically wrong.

Character advancement in Warhammer Fantasy is fairly interesting. Characters spend xp on ability score advances until they have maxed out their first career. After this they can enter new careers (each career has multiple career exits, and a number of career options are always available depending on what adventuring class you picked).

A feature of the WFRP class system worth mentioning is the existence of Advanced Classes, which may only be entered after the completion of at least one basic career. The prestige classes before you had prestige classes. Mercenary Captains, Assassins, Spies, Slavers, Witch-Hunters, Giant-Slayers and Demagogues and that most advanced of advanced classes, the motherfucking Wizard.

This Chapter ends with some pretty decent advice on creating scenarios and campaigns, and may be broken down into procedures for generating random treasure and NPCs, the creation of scenarios (with a number of very simple adventure hooks such as ‘find the thing’ or ‘the dwarven mine is abandoned, there is gold there, but why was it empty in the first place?!?’) and some advice on the merits of random encounters as part of the groundwork upon which the mighty edifice of verisimilitude is meant to rest. This section is very serviceable and does not differ overmuch from what one would find in a treatise on GMing for first edition DnD.

Overall Warhammer Fantasy provides an expansive but not overly complex set of rules to adjudicate gameplay. While some frantic mouse-wheel scrolling/page-flipping is likely to accompany a novice GM game, the basics are universal enough as to be easy to grasp for both GM and player.

Whew that took me long enough did it not? Join us soon as we shall investigate that common occurence in Grim and Perilous adventuring: COMBAT. Or as Warhammer most eloquently describes it: 14. YOUR BLOW CAVES IN THE OPPONENTS CHEST, RUPTURING SEVERAL INTERNAL ORGANS AND CAUSING DEATH IN A MATTER OF SECONDS.


2 thoughts on “PrinceofNothingReviews: Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Pt. II: Systems

  1. The thing about Warhammer is how much of the ‘gritty’ subsystems, like disease, poison, and insanity, had already appeared in the DMG, which is basically the ur-text of subsequent gaming. It’s also funny how some tropes, like the regenerating trolls, have been imported wholesale. I haven’t seen the original Warhammer Fantasy Battle, but I suspect it was originally meant as a mass-combat supplement for D-and-D.

    I have to confess that I have never played Warhammer, but I enjoy the setting and ‘fluff’. If I had to run a game in the setting, I’d probably use The Fantasy Trip rules to do so.

    Also, the whole ‘trollslayer’ thing is amusing, because the most durable characters in the game are supposed to be the suicidal ones.


    1. [WhF 1e]

      Aye, the description of Warhammer Fantasy 1e as a Fantasy Heartbreaker or DnD + is quite apt. If you scratch the thin varnish of the d100 system you reveal a delicious noughaty AD&D centre. I would venture that the Grit is mostly due to the more coherent packaging. And the crit tables.


      Fuck me I still want to give it a spin. There is no such thing as Ratmen indeed! Warhammer Fantasy stands as a testament to the rule that even something as banal as Beastmen can be cool if you give it adequate fluff


      Heh, but the hatred rule ensures that said durability, however legendary, shall be put to the test indeed..


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