When Games Workshop transitioned from Warhammer Fantasy Battle to Age of Sigmar back in 2015, it marked the end of one of the oldest fantasy roleplaying worlds in existence. Warhammer‘s Old World was no more. The low fantasy world of ratcatchers and mohawk-wearing dwarves was gone, and with it a certain strain of British fantasy, one inspired by Michael Moorcock and heavy metal. Warhammer Fantasy went extinct in 2015; its roleplaying counterpart, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, followed the next year, when Fantasy Flight Games lost (or let lapse) its licensing agreement with Games Workshop.
The Old World is back, however, and it’s a welcome return. Cubicle 7, the studio behind the amazing The One Ring, snagged the license and announced a fourth edition of the venerable Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (or WFRP, which should absolutely be pronounced “woof-rip”). The question was what would inspire the new edition? Would it be the largely continuous mechanics and feel of the 1st and 2nd editions? Or would it be the radically different approach of 3rd? Something else, entirely?
I’ve Been Here Before
The (probably) good news is that you’ll recognize this edition of the game if you’ve had any experience with the 1st and 2nd editions of the game. The mechanics of the game are roughly the same: a percentile system, with various skills and situational modifiers to make those d100 rolls easier or harder. All of the doodads which made WFRP famous for its blood-drenched lethality are here, as well—that hit location chart, with its accompanying critical hits of arterial spray and decapitation, is still prominent.
Where the moment-to-moment system has changed is in the smoothing out the randomness. Old school WFRP players are familiar with Fate, a currency meant to keep you alive in the tough moments. The new edition has more types of similar currency and more granularity. Joining the old Fate point system is Resilience, which staves off the corrupting power of Chaos. You can also get smaller, more temporary benefits from Fate and Resilience through associated pools called Fortune and Resolve, respectively.
A system called Advantage has been added to the combat system, making it a little more modern and dynamic than the trading of blows style combat of older editions. Essentially, if you attack well or stave off an attack, you get a bonus to rolls later in the combat. There’s a give and take to lower level combat in the new WFRP, where characters quite literally press their small-a advantage with the capital-A Advantage system. I’m a little worried that it might snowball at higher levels, but that’s also a worry for a later day and is very likely to prove unfounded.
The net effect is a tempering of the brutality of classic WFRP. Not enough to change the fact that this is still a dingy, deadly game, but a Goldilocks’ porridge situation where you feel just a little more heroic and can be a bit more aspirational as a brand new character.
A Renaissance Jobs Program
The big question is going to be about WFRP‘s rightly lauded career system, wherein your character is randomly generated from a variety of standard fantasy races and a host of menial jobs which, through hard in-game work, become ladders to high status. It is, I’m happy to report, fully intact and probably improved.
Character creation becomes as random as you want it in WFRP 4th edition. All the charts are still there, albeit with some careers folded into others, urging you to roll on them. But you can also just choose what you want to be; if you want that low probability Wood Elf Noble, go for it. The catch is clever: the more you give in to randomness and roll stuff, the more starting experience you get. That leads to the enticing proposition that the lowly Human Beggar might have more starting potential than an outwardly more powerful, high-status character.
It’s cool. Carrots are almost always better than sticks, and here’s one saying, “Go with what’s always been the case with this 30-year-old system and just roll, we’ll reward you for it”. My obsession with playing Trollslayers almost melted when a small cohort of friends and I sat down to make characters and play a quick session to check things out.
And for one of my friends, who always randomizes everything he can for his characters? He was in character creation heaven (Human Lawyer, if you’re anxious to know).
The Library is Open
One of the immediate things I noticed when I opened the rules for the first time was how similar it seemed to the 2nd edition of the game. That had me looking at my stack of old books, from the classic Realm of Chaos books of the Golden Age of Warhammer to Children of the Horned Rat. How much of this stuff was translatable to the new edition and how much work would it be?
Easily, as it turns out. Talking to WFRP lead producer, Andy Law, I was told that the mechanical work is pretty negligible. NPCs would have to be tweaked just a bit and Corrupting Influences added (think specific places and situations which corrupt your character over time), but that’s it. During my brief session, we didn’t do anything with the magic system, but Law added that would probably be the most complicated bit, though that seems to be less about complexity and more that each edition of the game prior to this one has had very different mechanical approaches to magic.
This is welcome news, because Cubicle 7 put all the 1st and 2nd edition material back into print via Drivethru RPG. Why not use all that great old stuff? Thematically, of course, it meshes perfectly, and if the mechanics are there, too, that’s less work for everyone.
As for what’s on the horizon, Law was cagey, but did talk about something coming soon: what he called a director’s cut of the famous The Enemy Within campaign, being written with the help of original author Graeme Davis. Law said he’d been playing the campaign with some of “the new bits”, a tantalizing tidbit of information which should set several subsections of the RPG community buzzing.
All of which points to the best thing about WFRP 4th. It’s keenly aware of its own history. Both in the book’s writing and my brief exchange with Law, there’s a sense of stewardship of something venerable and important. It bleeds through the text, which is two-thirds exactly what we know and want and one-third tweaks to make the system feel a little more modern. And it’s fun. Warhammer stuff is always fun, if you’re willing to give yourself over to the world with only a sliver of hope left as the end approaches.
This is the WFRP of The Enemy Within, of arch class commentary and German puns, of necromancers and trollslayers. The Old World has returned in all its grimy glory. Long may it stay.
Excited about Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay‘s new edition? Share some tales of your adventures in the Old World in the comments below!
More Warhammer Goodness!
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Image Credits: Cubicle 7