Fisting Myself Isn’t As Fun As I Thought It Would Be

This article was previously published on Ferretbrain; due to the imminent closure of that site, I’m moving it over here so that it can remain available.

I’ve previously paid attention to Games Workshop/Black Library’s line of Path to Victory gamebooks, which I felt did a generally good job of evoking the Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 settings despite having some issues with errata. Well, the third book in the line – Herald of Oblivion – is out, and gives YOU, the reader, the chance to play a Space Marine. Specifically, a member of Ferretbrain’s favourite ever Space Marine chapter, the Imperial Fists.

The book is written by Jonathan Green, the self-described “King of Steampunk” and a veteran gamebook author (having churned out most of the more recently published Fighting Fantasy books). The former aspect of his work makes me worry that I’ll be expected to play a Space Marine wearing a top hat and a monocle in clockwork power armour; the latter, though, is more promising, especially since he wrote Howl of the Werewolf which Dan and Kyra liked and is apparently fairly popular as far as gamebooks go. How will Green evoke the distinctive character of this Chapter? Will there be options like “Turn to paragraph 28 to put on the Pain Glove” or “Roll against Strength to not cry when the Sergeant brands your buttocks”? When playing the Deathwatch tabletop RPG is a perfectly viable option, how does the solo Fist experience compare to Fisting with friends? Let’s see.

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If You Wish To Worship Chaos, Turn To Paragraph 8

This article was previously published on Ferretbrain; due to the imminent closure of that site, I’m moving it over here so that it can remain available.

Alright, fine, the next part of my Fighting Fantasy reviews has been a long time coming. I’m working on it, OK? As a matter of fact, I’ve been prodded into getting back into a gamebook mood over the past year by two things – the first being the Fighting Fantasy-themed podcast Kyra, Dan, Shim and I did a while back, and the second being Games Workshop getting back into the gamebook gig with their new Path to Victory line. Although Games Workshop strictly speaking weren’t the actual publishers of the Fighting Fantasy books, there’s little doubt in founding the series Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were at least partially hoping to provide a gateway drug to gaming in order to cultivate a new generation of customers; equally, since the Fighting Fantasy setting and Warhammer‘s fantasy world developed in parallel, both game lines ended up influencing each other a lot. And yet, at the same time, Games Workshop never seemed to realise that a Warhammer gamebook could be really popular with its customers – until now, that is.

Black Library have been running a print-on-demand sideline for some time now, but they’ve mainly been using it to make long out-of-print material from their back catalogue available when they don’t think there’s a sufficient market for it. (Or, in the case of Space Marine, where the naughty non-canonicity of it all makes them all flustered and swoony.) The first Path to Victory gamebook, C.Z. Dunn’s 40K-based Hive of the Dead was to my knowledge the first all-original print-on-demand title from them. Presumably, part of the reason for making the books print-on-demand was that they didn’t seem sure there’d be a market for them at all. In fact, when I bought the book at least the term Path to Victory didn’t appear on it (due to it being print-on-demand they may have updated that at some point) – evidently it was successful enough to convince Black Library it was worth doing a whole series of them, and so the Path to Victory logo proudly appears on book two in the series, the Warhammer fantasy-based Beneath the City of the White Wolf by M.F. Bradshaw.

In a way, gamebooks for Warhammer and Warhammer 40000 are a perfect fit for the POD side of the business – they might only appeal to a subsection of Black Library’s readership, but they’re an easy sell to those readers of an age to have lived through the Fighting Fantasy craze, as witnessed by the fact that when I got the e-flyer announcing Hive of the Dead I forwarded it to Dan yelling ZOMG 40K GAMEBOOKS!!!!! In a way, the books also represent Black Library sneakily getting back into the RPG business, if only in the form of solo adventures as opposed to fully-featured RPGs; their Black Industries subsidiary had successfully overseen the resurrection of WFRP (that’s Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying in case you didn’t know) and had produced the first 40K RPG Dark Heresy in house before Games Workshop shut them down and outsourced the RPGs’ development to Fantasy Flight Games (who have done a credible job with the 40K RPGs but made a complete hash of their new editon of WFRP). Evidently there’s still an appetite for crossing the book publishing and gaming streams at Black Library, and gamebooks seem to be the perfect way for them to scratch that itch.

Now that the second book, Beneath the City of the White Wolf, has come out and made it clear that Black Library are in this for the long haul, it’s about time I reviewed these things. I’ll be sticking with the format from the Fighting Fantasy reviews, with the odd tweak as I’ll explain as I go along.

Continue reading “If You Wish To Worship Chaos, Turn To Paragraph 8”

The Old World’s Never Felt So Fresh

WFRP 4th edition is here! As the back cover blurb proudly puts it (beneath the classic tagline of “A Grim World of Perilous Adventure”), “Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay takes you back to the Old World.” Whereas Games Workshop blew up the Old World setting to kick off the Age of Sigmar setting as far as their tabletop wargame offerings go, Cubicle 7’s new edition of WFRP is one of a range of licensed products, including the Total War: Warhammer videogames and Black Library reprints, to have been set in the original Old World setting despite emerging after the Age of Sigmar release.

An entirely separate Age of Sigmar RPG, with a different system more suited to the somewhat different style of fantasy that setting lends itself to features, is apparently in the pipeline: WFRP 4th Edition, in contrast, is something of a nostalgia product – Cubicle 7 set themselves the goal of presenting an updated, improved take on the 2nd edition rules but injecting a lot of 1st edition feel and atmosphere, and they pretty much deliver exactly that – right down to the cover art paying tribute to 1st edition’s cover.

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Deeper Into the Empire

OK; maybe in my previous look at 1st edition WFRP adventures I was a little harsh, though when you’re setting material like the Doomstones nonsense against the excellence of Shadows Over Bögenhafen it can be easy to look perspective. Having given a second look to some of the material from the period, I think there’s actually more gems from back then than I gave it credit for.

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Tomes of Realms

In both 1st and 2nd edition, some of the most absolutely beloved supplements for WFRP have been big, thick explorations of the unique metaphysic of the Warhammer world. It’s that cosmology, after all, which gives rise to the conventional religions of the setting, the ways of magic, and the forces of Chaos – all three, in fact, are manifestations of the Warp, just as they are in Warhammer 40,000 or Age of Sigmar. A close look at these supplements therefore seems in order if we’re going to hope for suitable sequels for 4th edition.

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The Utilitarian Supplements of WFRP 2nd Edition

The 2nd edition of WFRP had a nice, healthy supplement line, with various types of product there. Some of these were lavish treatments of major aspects of the Warhammer world’s cosmology. Some of these were focused supplements based on various human nations or non-human cultures of the setting. Still others were perhaps less sexy than these items, but at the same time had a seriously utilitarian bent to them which made running or playing WFRP all that much easier. This article is dedicated to the latter.

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Apocryphal Pick-and-Mix

The publication history of WFRP 1st edition materials is pretty wrinkled – a range of products that had been put out under Games Workshop or Flame Publications saw reprints under Hogshead Publishing, but others weren’t – Hogshead opting instead to skim off the cream, leave some perhaps less-than-stellar material behind, and cobble the best bits together in various Apocrypha collections, although ultimately only two were published.

Apocrypha Now!

Largely cobbled together out of little articles here and there – some from the pages of White Dwarf magazine, others from previous WFRP releases like The Restless Dead – Apocrypha Now! incorporates useful commentary on and expansion of the 1st edition rules, deeper pointers on roleplaying nonhumans along with some juicy Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling-specific careers (and details on playing Gnomes), and a brace of locations you can drag and drop into your campaign as the situation demands. (This includes two nicely fleshed-out adventures centred on nights at an inn – Night of Blood and A Rough Night at the Three Feathers – which had previously been reprinted in The Restless Dead, though the versions given here thankfully lack the unnecessary clutter of the pointers on how to integrate them into the Enemy Within campaign, or the token effort to turn them into episodes in a campaign spuriously stringing all the adventures in The Restless Dead together.)

Apocrypha 2: Chart of Darkness

Split between original articles (like some nice in-depth looks at funerary traditions and crime and punishment in the Empire) and reprinted material, this 2000 collection is much in the same vein as the previous one. Between this and the previous one you more or less get all the material worth reprinting from The Restless Dead (without, like I said, the unnecessary clutter of trying to tie them all together into one campaign or The Enemy Within), plus more besides.