Reviews: Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying 1e Pt. V: The Laughter of Dark Gods

Religion in the Old World bears a striking resemblance to religion in the Forgotten Realms, with little but fucking Ao creating an Avatar crisis and turning the setting into a goddamn comic book to set it apart. The Old World of Man is polytheistic in the manner of the ancient Greeks or Romans, with several vaguely germanic/greek-ish major gods being worshipped alongside many minor deities whose domain may be so small as a single river, mountain or city.

The Folk of the Old World believe that the Gods govern every little bit of the world and as such they deserve respect and veneration. For the most part they seem to be right, and one great way to get yourself fucked up is to be disrespectful towards the gods (even the hated Chaos Gods). In a nice twist, it is possible to gain a blessing from deities by praying at their shrines, at the rate of about 1% cumulative chance per hour (more if you are a cleric or an unusually devout worshippers, far far less if you fuck up).

Since the Old World remains a largely civilised place, there is no open warfare between followers of different deities. Any religion whose tenets require open hostility towards others is generally outlawed. Openly venerating an outlawed god, even not one of the Chaos Gods, will invite harassment, arrest or public lynching. Venerating the hated Gods of Chaos is best done in secret or in the wilderness.

Each deity is described, fairly succinctly, in terms of name, portfolio, Alignment, Symbol, typical area of worship, appearance of the temple, friends/enemies (or more accurately, rivals), holy days, cult requirements (what you need to do to join the cult, generally a type of occupation), strictures (i.e a follower of Shayalla may never take a Human life, even in self-defence, unless it is a follower of Nurgle, a most enlightened doctrine), Spell Use (like Dnd 2nd edition, Different deities grant different types of magic to their priests), Skills (a list of skills available to priests of that particular deity), Trials (in order to advance levels as a priest you must complete a Quest a Trial relating somehow to the Deity’s portfolio) and Blessings (custom blessings for each deity, nice).

The Deities themselves are okay, and could have come from any well-written DnD homecampaign. You have your Sea God, your War God (Ulric, god of Winter, Wolves and War), your healing god, your Nature god, Your Grim Death God, your other War God (Myrmidia is essentially Athena), Your knowledge and justice god (a woman for some reason TRIGGER TRIGGER TRIGGER) and your benevolent Trickster God. I am a little dissapointed that none of the major evil powers are given more then a paragraph in this book, since the Cult of Khaine would have made a spiffy addition. In a suprising turn of events, Sigmar Heldenhammer, hero-deity of the Empire (think Teutonic Gilgamesh) and the official state religion of the empire, is barely described in this section.

Of the demihuman deities, only the head of the pantheon is described. The Dwarves get a mining God (geeee) and the Elves get an androgynous ponce-god of wine and song (Clerics may select Consume Alcohol as a skill). The Halflings worship a god of cooking and home, making them a joke. Is Hogshead taking the piss?!? Where is the Grimdark? WHERE IS IT I WILL FIND Y-

A cleric of Esmeralda the halfling god must swear a solemn vow never to eat less then 3 meals a day and to never do anything strenuous after a meal. Actually I take back my oath of revenge, I fucking love this. This is exactly the type of silly that I would put in a halfling cleric. Halflings are not supposed to be super cool and edgy. Halflings are silly. Approved!

In a strange and dissapointing deviation from the Warhammer I know and love, WHF 1e only details 3 Chaos Gods, giving each of them little more then a paragraph. Khorne (skulls, blood, brass, skulls for skull-chairs, exsanguination for the exsanguination deity etc. etc.), Nurgle (Aids, herpes, siphilis etc. etc.). No vulture-headed trickster god nor seductive androgynous god of excess that may or may not be sexist (SOMEDAY THE INTERNET WILL KNOW). In addition we have Malal, a renegade Chaos God who has turned against his brethren, fighting Chaos with Chaos. So powerful was Malal, that the very keepers of the Black Library wrote him out of the Canon.

In an interesting Moorcockian twist, the game also briefly details the Gods of Law, which were similarly left on the cutting room floor in later additions (possibly after several threatening letters from Mr. Moorcock and his trusty blade Stormbringer). In a nice nod thematic nod to Moorcock, the Gods of Law are not worshipped all that much, their doctrines either inhumanly harsh or incomprehensible, and one of them is imprisoned in a crystal coffin (GREAT ADVENTURE SEED).

The Priest class itself can easily stand in for any Wizard worth his salt, and I doubt we shall see many parties with both. All priests gain acces to certain types of Magic (described in the previous chapter), depending on their deity, and they get the same spellcasting penalties. Most priests can get more variety then the poor dumb wizard this way, but the cost is rather heavy. Priests have pretty strict behavioural codes, must complete a Trial before being able to advance to the next level, and must pass divine judgement (costs 100 xp), with  possible end result being that you do not get to advance because you are judged unworthy, depending on how well you paid service to the ideals of the deity. On the other hand, if you do really great you can get yourself some extra abilities and even a fate point on top of advancement.

The most complex spellcasting class thus far appears to be the Druid. Druids don’t do all the fancy pancy new religion and instead worship the Old Faith, their shrines replaced with sacred Groves and Ancient Circles of Stone. Druids have similar trials compared to clerics, with even variety in the strictures. Each Druid, in addition to having access to petty magic, some Elemental and Battle Magic and Special Druid Magic (exactly what you think it is, talk with animals, do nature shit, change into animals, summon animals etc. etc.), though the selection of Battle Magic and Elemental Magic is limited to one spell per level of the Druid. Druids also get a familiar, a spirit animal visible only to them that can be harmed only by magic and gives them more powers, making them even more potent and loading them with even more restrictions. If you have a bear spirit animal you may, for example, never harm bears nor by inaction, allow bears to come to harm in a sort of Ursine twist on the laws of Robotics. Also your diet should be that of your spirit animal, more or less. Nice.
They go very far with many of these specific rule-systems. Druids can try to put Wights (which are spectral things) to rest by a contest of Wills, with failure turning the druid into the Wight’s mindless servant. Druids may attempt to calm Were-creatures, which are not Chaos Mutants (lame!) but men possessed by Animal Spirits (also kind of cool). Someone really liked Druids is what I am saying.

The section on religion in Warhammer fantasy 1e is so reminiscent of DnD that it should be intuitively familiar to anyone who has ever played it, though I believe the use of deity-specific spells or domains predates that of 2e, a nice example of two games influencing eachother. It gives enough variety and detail that it does not outstay its welcome, and has a sort of naive charm to it. The way priests and druids are handled is interesting and more elaborated on then in 1e. Anyone yearning for the Grimdark days of the Warhammer Fantasy that WILL BE will have to obtain the Sorcery supplement, which expands the available schools of magic considerably. As it stands, it feels like DnD, albeit house-ruled Dnd. And what, I ask, is wrong with that?!?

I should point out that I like it that there is no Necromantic God, and the Undead are considered blasphemous horrors worthy only of immediate merciless destruction even by Morr, god of death (maybe Nurgle things its okay, who knows, ONLY A PARAGRAPH HOGSHEAD). The Undead should be blasphemous horrors that are anathema to the very order of things.

Next Up: The Bestiary. Prepare to read LIKE DND BUT. A lot.

Edit: FUCK DRUIDS.

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8 thoughts on “Reviews: Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying 1e Pt. V: The Laughter of Dark Gods

  1. “a woman for some reason”

    Justice is traditionally depicted as a blind chick in yr. Classical tradition, is she not?

    You have failed in your Trial. No third level Defender of Western Civilisation may ye be.

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    1. That was bait to lure the rainbow-haired minions of evil into revealing themselves yet my snare has caught only a bowler-hatted exile reeking of Fish and Chips and muttering on and on about Blackadder and someone having so save some old bird or something along those lines.

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      1. I wouldn’t be seen dead in a bowler. Civil servants and bank clerks wear bowlers. In the 1930s.

        This is the defence’s only objection, m’lud.

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  2. NOW:

    I confess myself rather fond of this idea that Sigmar, the Empire, and the Chaos Gods are not yet the implied-by-coverage centre of the world, though it lasts until the release of the Enemy Within as far as I know and then we’re ‘back’ in the WFB world we’d come to recognise.

    Obviously as far as the Chaos Gods are concerned you need only a paragraph to measure the sum of their EVIL from the perspective of the Old World and its benighted citizens. Who fucking cares what the Blood God demands of his worshippers – you’re not going to be playing one, are you?

    (We pause, at this juncture, for the defence counsel to slide his dog-eared Slaves to Darkness under the lectern and cough significantly.)

    I also confess that I never had much patience for WFRP Druids, who always felt a bit plumbed-in for my taste. That said I came to WFRP from post-Kirby WFB, where Tilea and Estalia and gods not named Teutonic Gilgamesh or The Lady of the Pastiche were barely mentioned most of the time and Druids were, at best, token weirdos in a Dogs of War army. I liked the take on Clerics – an actual religion, with trials and strictures and political tension between it and other religions – but I felt Taal and Rhya covered the pseudoWiccan hippy-dippy angle without having to drag actual Druids into the mix as well.

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    1. [Sigmar and the Gods of Chaos]

      Point, however, the Empire being the dominant continental power one would expect the worship of Sigmar to be widespread or at least agressively proselytised within its vassal states. Your Chaos gods point is apt, but this remains a tool for the GM to make fun fantasy adventure games and some extra details allow the GM to flesh out encounters with the followers of the darkest power in the entire game.

      [Blood God demands]

      Khorne does not care from whence Blood flows…

      [Playing Chaos]

      The Judge eyes the Black Crusade corebook in contemplation…

      [Druids]

      I can’t judge yet, I have not wrestled my way through the old canon. So far they seem alright, although given the efficiency with which the other deities have been allocated portfolios the existence of both Earth Worshippers AND Taal AND his has-been wife seem like overkill. Reya is included more for lore purposes I guess, to flesh out the setting somewhat and to make stuff feel connected. The rivets on the rollercoaster ride.

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      1. [Sigmar and the Powers]

        Perhaps. I think you’re overestimating both the Empire’s influence and the relevance of Sigmar outside the twelve tribes. The Bretonnians don’t have their pseudoSigmar or his totally-not-a-wood-elf girlfriend in this period so as far as I’m aware they’re in the polytheist trust tree with everyone else… but it’s still hard to evangelise Sigmar to someone without a trace of good Unberogen blood in them. The Wasteland gave up that monotheist shit within two hundred years…

        [Druids]

        You’d save a lot of time if you acted on your instincts regarding overkill (they are correct) and/or listened to me (I am correct). Druids are superfluous in a pantheon which already has clerics for its nature god and goddess, and in eighteen years of running WFRP, nobody has ever approached me and said “Von, I want to play a Druid.” That’s why I haven’t killed ANY of my friends.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m liking the new and improved Fire and Brimstone Von. This is your home turf innit?

        [Sigmar and the Powers]

        Nerd.

        [Druids]

        Okay okay okay fuck druids.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. [Nerd]

        You are and so’s your wife.

        [Fire and Brimstone]

        Yeah, WFRP and Fighting Fantasy are where I came in. You’re all living in Von’s world now, etcetera.

        Liked by 1 person

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