Finally. Fucking finally. After getting all lubed up after a gritty medieval character creation start and combat that involves maiming and bleeding out in the mud we suddenly grow limp at the lacklustre religion, magic and bestiary sections. Not so the actual setting, which is the grimdarkness that we all fondly remember.
In ye ancient times the world was visited by extraterrestrial frog magicians who constructed wormhole gates on the North and South Poles (as one does). After fucking around with the Earth’s axes and causing the Ice age to end, they began experimenting with the many different life forms on earth. Also their gates broke, becoming holes into an infinite, extradimensional otherworld and are now vast, gaping holes bleeding forth the raw stuff of chaos into reality. Shit was fucked from thereon out. On the plus side, these wounds in reality allow extra-dimensional energies to enter the world, thus allowing for stuff like magic
and hideous mutant ratmen driven by endless hunger and hatred of mankind. On the down-side, crystallised warp matter is raining down on everyone, causing hideous mutation and corruption of the soul that gradually increases over the centuries and the extradimensional otherworld is inhabited by the incarnate nightmares of mankind, which seek to pour forth and enact hideous designs upon order and existence itself. You can’t win them all. Fortunately the frog magicians quickly go extinct, but not without passing on a lot of their knowledge to the Elves, giving them a sense of entitlement that would never truly fade.
After that the setting goes into the rising of the various humanoid races. It covers a great deal of ground in a reasonable amount of pages, sticking to the essentials without boring everyone with technicalities. The elves and the dwarves have a giant slap fight over something that the book does not truly feel worth mentioning* and in the aftermath the elves retreated to a magic island or preferred to live in trees and not be bothered while the now diminished dwarves got to gradual extermination from vast tribes of goblins. They never got over it and are, to this day, still going extinct and pissed off at the elves. Halflings are rumoured to be an experiment by the Slann (space frog magicians) to create a life-form that is resistant to the corruptive effects of Chaos but they went extinct before they could give the halfling race any balls, thus they are ineffectual, if well-behaved and unusually un-mutated, wimps. Fortunately for everyone, mankind stepped onto the stage, helped the beleagured dwarves fight off the marauding Goblin hordes and is now the dominant race. It is also the most affected by chaos and more animal-human hybrids, insane chaos cults and mutant babies must be thrown onto the pyres by fanatical witchhunters every year. This is what we are talking about ladies and gentlemen.
The Book takes great pains to mention YOU CANNOT WIN. Chaos will eventually prevail, as inevitable as the fucking tides. Right now, humanity and a bunch of deities that do not want to be unmade can do little else but drive back the encroaching and ever-waxing tides of Chaos, prolonguing the inevitable destruction of all that is. FUCK. YEAH.
The campaign map itself is essentially one step away from fantasy Europe and I would not have it any other way. Most of the setting information concerns the Old World, and this is the likely setting where any adventures take place, but some mention is made of Araby (asshole ottomans and pirates), Cathay (magic chinamen) and Lustria (lizardmen) as other scenic vistas one might want to go to and steal shit from.
It is the year 2500. The dominant human power is the Empire, forged by the heroic chieftain Sigmar and clearly inspired by the Holy Roman Empire (Late medieval period, whatever the fuck that means). After a rough period of 1000 years of anarchy and the troublesome time of the Three Empires, the Empire has got its shit together again just in time for the Incursions of Chaos and is now the dominant power in the Old World, surpassing all other human powers in terms of military might, industry, economy, technology, handsomeness, organisation and sorcery (like the Germany of today). Naturally its somewhat instable and convoluted system of elector counts, old imperial families and fiercely independent City-states can lead to a somewhat volatile mix but Karl Franz I still sits on the Throne of Altdorf so fuck you commies. Even the Empire is still hideously dangerous, covered with vast forests that hide all manner of bandits and marauding tribes of beastmen. In a suprising twist, the Empire is not super racist and actually gets along really well with dwarves and the halflings (who are too lame to have their own state).
Above we have Kislev, or fantasy Poland, the last bastion of civilisation before the Chaos wastes, and it shows. Whenever Chaos invades Kislev is always the first to get fucked up. Famous for its hideously melted town of Praag where faces appear from walls running like molten glass, which has to be periodically reburned and rebuilt to keep the taint of Chaos from returning. Putting more Grim in the Grimdark is Bretonnia, The Empire’s more backward, smellier cousin. Fuck all that nonsense about the bourgeouisie, learning and Elector Counts, Bretonnia is an absolute monarchy, with all the filth-choked streets, cholera-infested cesspit towns and vast criminality that entails. The aristocracy is decadent, cruel and willfully blind to the corruption that slowly worms its way into Brittonia’s Soul.
There are the two nations of Tilea and Estalia, somewhat different but both vaguely spanish city-state based sea-powers that do a lot of trading and piracy respectively. What I love is that their proximity to the Chaos Gates determines their cultural attitude. Chaos is much less prevalent in Estalia and Tilea, thus they quarrel and fight more amongst themselves and with other human nations, something which makes a shitload of sense.
No good fantasy setting is complete without a Borderlands (the Border Princes) at the edges of civilisation where it is possible for someone with a good sword arm to carve out a princedom for himself. Demi-human kingdoms are only described briefly, and that is really all that is needed, for the Old Word is very much a humanocentric world, with the exception of maybe the beleagured Dwarven Kingdoms.
Each nations is described not just in major geographical locations (cities with 10.000+ inhabitants) but also in terms of major forests and waterways, which helps to lend them some versimilitude. Cities are described in terms of unusual features, culture and the occasional plothook (i.e Tilea is the proud ruler of the Blighted Marshes, a hideously dangerous stretch of land that is rumoured to contain the accursed nightmare city of SkavenBlight). Plenty of danger and thus adventure, both mundane and horrific, can be found in the filth-choked alleys and dark, ill-maintained roads of the Old World.
This section also gives you a means of generating smaller towns, villages and farmsteads around major population centres, something which I suppose will be required given the size of the domains and the fact only major population centres are covered. Some attention is paid to the placement of said settlements, but I suspect most GM’s will just want to wing it (but as guideline you could do worse). Inns, lockhouses and shrines are briefly covered, as well as Wood Elven, Dwarven, Halfling and Sea elf settlements (some cities even have a Dwarf quarter).
Travel between major population centres of the Old World is neither cheap nor safe. Roads are expensive to maintain, bandits lurk in the wilderness, piracy looms and everything sucks. Multiple modes of travel are covered, in such detail that even ambushes may be played out, with damage to the craft in question made fully possible by the rules. The way travel is described, very few adventurers will choose to brave the roads of the Old World on foot.
After this section there is a brief section on languages, useful and nice to have. Learning languages does not take xp in many cases, merely a lot of time and a native speaker. We end with a consumer guide, tips on minting your own coins of inferior quality (punishable by death and seizure of all assets if discovered in the Empire), a price list for all available equipment, an availability list for all available equipment expressed as a percentage chance based on the population of the settlement you try to find it in (looking for a Surgeon? Not in Dorfburg you wont!).
We end with a section on hiring 0th level personnel and NPC hirelings. The only noteworthy feature is that hirelings apparently take great pains NOT to have their cash on themselves when they join up, therefore you cannot try that one thing you always do when it is payday and everyone is out of gold. Otherwise it should be instantly familiar to anyone who has ever read the WHEN YOUR PLAYERS SUCK; HIRING HELP FIXES EVERYTHING section of an OSR game.
Overall, the setting is pretty sweet. Similar enough to the real world to give it some familiarity, enough variation to prevent it from getting stale, more coherent then Greyhawk (tough it lacks an army list, perhaps for understandable reasons), Grimdark as fuck, with a silly origin story that is somehow fitting (and also fairly original for the time), enough hooks to get you going and to create an atmosphere and did I mention I loved the Grimdark.
Warhammer Fantasy 1e is still Warhammer Fantasy and we love it to bits. Stay tuned for the sample adventure.
* = The dreams of the poppy reveal the cause was a blasphemous poet and general malcontent by the name of Matt War-*BLAM*