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.

The Empire Renewed, the Old World Refreshed

The Empire is often the focus of WFRP campaigns, and for good reason; whilst a British RPG publisher producing a fantasy world that was basically a twisted funhouse mirror version of our own world back in history times might have been expected to default to medieval England, Games Workshop elected to take the world less travelled and centre the gameworld on this strange take on the Holy Roman Empire circa the early Renaissance. (Albion, in the WFRP setting, is a near-irrelevant dirt pile haunted by horrors – like 2000 AD, Alan Moore, and Michael Moorcock, they were riding a wave of 1980s British fantasy that was out to burst the bubble of jingoistic British exceptionalism, and it warms the patriotism-despising cockles of my globalist Remainer heart to see it.)

For WFRP purposes, the main sources of lore on the Empire during 1st edition days consisted of the brief writeup in the core book and the welcome additional detail provided in The Enemy Within – later compiled in various ways, the most recent and easily-available version of which is the Hogshead Enemy Within Campaign Volume 1: Shadows Over Bögenhafen, which compiles the original Enemy Within set and the full-length Shadows Over Bögenhafen adventure, which is now on sale as a PDF on DriveThruRPG thanks to Cubicle 7. The second edition, which due to Games Workshop requirements takes place after the “Storm of Chaos” metaplot event, required an update to this material, and the main delivery mechanism for this update (aside from the core WFRP2 rulebook) was Sigmar’s Heirs.

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Why I Like and Dislike “The Enemy Within” (and Other 1st Edition WFRP Adventure Supplements)

Whenever people talk about classic WFRP, one of the products which always gets mentioned is The Enemy Within campaign. Originally released between 1986 and 1989, the campaign is to WFRP what Masks of Nyarlathotep is to Call of Cthulhu – an extensive campaign released in the 1980s that gets regularly reprinted and talked up a lot, and is a reasonably iconic example of a particular style of play, but at the same time actually has a number of issues which have become more and more apparent in retrospect as best practice in scenario-writing has moved forwards.

In fact, poke WFRP fans a bit harder and it becomes apparent that most of them are actually more keen on the idea of The Enemy Within than they are with the campaign itself. Some parts of it are held to be of much higher quality than others, and in particular whilst opinions do (as always) vary the consensus seems to be that WFRP‘s various publishers over the years have never quite been able to stick the landing when it comes to delivering the full campaign.

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