Review by Rob Bailey
There was a time when carrying the plague was just about as funny as chewing on a d4 with the intent to shape it into a d12, but somehow Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, affectionately abbreviated to woofrup, offers players the sense that long odds against prosperity, health, cleanliness, warm welcome and intact teeth are the perfect incentive to act like the dirty, disease-ridden, deviant and broken heroes they always secretly wanted to be.
In the distant, vainglorious hope of redemption from poverty, squalor and servitude to fell powers beyond reach to all but the most committed, nobility of character is curiously accessible as a genuine mover and moulder of destiny.
Confronted from the outset by a vile old world in turmoil; filled with suspicion, monstrosity, inequity, sexism, racism, species-ism, greed and a seething lust for magic as a panacea, the player may go on enjoy a steep climb from the gutter of a frequently malnourished starting career to gradually heave themselves into the slippery murk of such tenuous alliances as may further despoil their chances of survival.
Owing a huge debt to the likes of Jack Yeovil and Dan Abnett in building such a foetid and roast-warm miasma, The Old World was established as a uniquely timely place designed to subvert Thatcher’s Britain by inspiring the imagined underclass to real unity despite innumerable vines of withering corruption being the only thing holding a crumbling society intact.
A key strength in woofrup is the Career system: an astonishingly comprehensive database of character-types from 2nd edition’s Career Compendium expansion allows players to step easily into character, from stevedores and pond dredgers to flagellants and charcoal burners…and yes, apprentice Wizard is there as well. Sigh. Oh well, every rpg needs one cliché.
Catered character races are disappointingly slim – All-rounder Humans, tough-as-tax Dwarves, hobbitual Halflings and slimmer than a wet blade of grass Elves…and that’s your lot. That being said, the statistics, skills and to a lesser extent the careers are easily transferable given an enthusiastic GM spends time, in theory and to some degree in practice allowing for Ogre brutes and heavies, mobs of clattering mobster skeletons and other unexpected genotypes to sail smoothly across ‘uncanny valley’ and make it into player-character form…
I hate the phrase “It’s a D(#) system”, but…its a D10 system. Stats are rolled and whenever tests or checks are made, the player wants to roll under their statistic. This is massively narky to me, as it would make far more sense to add your stat to the roll, but hey the designers wanted to be different, (ah those plucky brits competing against a certain american behemoth) and no one really wants to sit through thirty seven hours of rejigging just so players can jump up when they roll a high number instead of face-palming.
Combat can feel a bit whiffy if you go strictly by the numbers, (one player rolls, usually misses, rince repeat), so narrative combat is always better to house-rule. Actually that makes the combat sound really flat, but with a little zest and a hungry bunch of characters it’s fine. There’s a generous list of actions and advanced combat stances tactically minded dice-fiends can adopt; number-crunching GMs should be delighted, though i prefer to take a faster and looser approach to avoid getting bogged down.
Magic is handled well by the 8 different schools/disciplines/colours of magic, though actually learning to cast all but the simplest of spells should – quite rightly – take the players many hours of training. Magic is frequently as dangerous to the caster as to their dearly intended, reflecting the dark hearted core of everything Warhammer – The Warpity Warp of Warpington, a Cosmic Chaos of truly Chaotic proportions filled with nasty chaosy warpy things that warp the mind just as surely as the flesh may grow…like a block of cheese seems to whenever it takes a holiday on the river with a keg of wine.
To fully enjoy WFRP 2nd edition, it’s well worth investing in the wide range of expansion books, most no longer in print sadly, but the pdfs can be downloaded from drivethru last time i checked. After the core rulebook, Tome of Corruption, Realms of Sorcery and Night’s Dark Masters are excellent sources of inspiration. The breadth of the Bestiary expansion will feel distinctly limited to Monster Compendium owners, however depth and evocation are present and correct.
In all cases the writing behind the history and setting is superb, and as well as literally hundreds of adventure seeds there are a range of accompanying campaign-style adventures in the core and among the supplements to at least temporarily appease the gnawing, growling hunger for misadventure that lies at the heart of every blaggard this side of the Reik.