This is part of a series of posts discussing the design objectives of the authors of WFRP first edition. The first post in the series can be found here.


We decided from the start that WFRP had to have a world of its own. Without its own background, it would have been just another fantasy RPG.

– WFRP Design Team, White Dwarf 87

Although D&D and AD&D had been resolutely generic for many years, by the mid 1980s this was changing. Greyhawk had been gradually revealed via a series of supplements, adventures and Dragon articles. Dragonlance had appeared in 1984. The Forgotten Realms setting would follow in 1987. WFRP1‘s adoption of its own background was simply following the role-playing zeitgeist.

The world of WFB had already been developing, and it seemed only logical to set the two games in the same world. So that’s the broad outline of the world map settled, as well as a few place names.

– WFRP Design Team, White Dwarf 87

This comment, though, reveals just how little detail there was in the Warhammer world at this stage. WFB1‘s setting had been generic. WFB2 only contained a few pages of background on the Known World. The Warhammer world was largely a blank canvas for the designers.

At this stage, WFRP didn’t really know what it was going to be. The Warhammer mythos as a whole was still at the red box second edition stage, with odd and sometimes contradictory snippets of background scattered across the Citadel Compendium and Journal, miniatures ads, and the backs of mini boxes.

– Graeme Davis, comment on FightingFantasist

What little there was of the Warhammer background was an odd mix. There was the science fantasy of Richard Halliwell’s Lustria setting. There was the high fantasy of Brian Ansell’s conflict between Law and Chaos. There were even historical elements brought in to allow for the use of existing miniatures. The WFRP team decided to take the background in yet another direction.

Since the game itself relies so much on atmosphere (the term “grubby fantasy” has been coined, to contrast with “shiny fantasy” which previously dominated role-playing), the world is highly necessary in order to convey that atmosphere.

– WFRP Design Team, White Dwarf 87

To me the best part of WFRP is the tone of the world. It seems odd to say it now, but at the time there simply wasn’t anything like it. Fantasy games were always very clean and heroic; every character had gleaming armour, a bodybuilder physique, perfect teeth and masses of back-combed blonde hair. Moral questions were always black and white, with no real dilemmas. It was very shallow, and I found it unsatisfying. I still love the way WFRP blends horror and humour, and challenges players to deal with complex situations and choices of evils.

– Graeme Davis, Warpstone

WFRP‘s “grubby fantasy” really was different. The only other game I am aware of that took this approach before WFRP was Alexander Scott’s Maelstrom, but that was an underappreciated niche game.

The next question to be answered was the level of technology. Most fantasy RPGs go for a stock Dark Ages to High Mediaeval Malory-Arthurian type of setting, but we thought that setting a slightly higher level of technology – late Mediaeval-early Renaissance – offered more possibilities, as well as a different and more satisfying atmosphere.

– WFRP Design Team, White Dwarf 87

Here WFRP not only deviated from the standard pseudo-mediaeval model of fantasy RPGs, but also from the Warhammer background as it stood at the time. WFRP‘s gunpowder weapons did not feature in WFB2. The WFB2 rules did describe bombards, and Ravening Hordes added Nipponese gunpowder weapons, but the idea that Old Worlders should have pistols or blunderbuses was new.

Finally, we decided that the culture – in the Old World, at least – should have some basic similarities with Earth at the same level of technology. This was intended to make the world more accessible to players. A completely fantastic world – like the Glorantha of RuneQuest, for example – is an interesting setting, but because it is unfamiliar to the neophyte player, the player will not know things about the world which the character might be expected to know. We turned to history for our inspiration so that even novice players will have some idea of what the world is like.

– WFRP Design Team, White Dwarf 87

The WFRP background was not radically new. It contained a familiar blend of elements derived from Tolkien, Moorock, folklore and history. But its grubby twist on the conventions of fantasy gaming was just enough for it to stand out from the competition without being so alien as to put players off.

The next post in the series will look at adventures.



  1. Not much to say, save that I’m enjoying these snappy little Manifesto posts. Some quotes and some commentary – very neat and tidy.


  2. There’s an AD&D adventure in White Dwarf #67, from 1985. It’s called “A Murder at Flaxton” and it seems to be set in an early version of WFRP‘s Old World; it’s one of those “odd and sometimes contradictory snippets” I suspect.


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