This post is part of a series discussing the design objectives of the authors of WFRP first edition. The first post in the series can be found here.
Adventures can range from hack-and-slay raids on goblin bases to nerve-racking investigations of blasphemous cults, from exploring uncharted wilderness to stopping the political machinations of the agents of the Chaos gods.
– White Dwarf 82
There was already an element of horror and dark humour in the Warhammer Fantasy Battle game, and at the time Call of Cthulhu was a new release, and the first horror roleplaying game to become a major hit. It was a major influence for Jim and Phil as well as me. We also shared a frustration with the simple monster-killing adventures of most fantasy role-playing games, and longed to create something with a deeper story, as well as less moral certainty. GW indulged us, and the result was the Enemy Within campaign.
– Graeme Davis, Acaeum
Although these two quotations can be reconciled literally, there is nonetheless a tension between them. One sees hack-and-slay as part of the game; the other doesn’t.
Again it is tempting to explain this tension in terms of the design team change. Adventures by the original team of Rick Priestley and Richard Halliwell, such as The Web of Eldaw or The Oldenhaller Contract were relatively traditional in character. By contrast, those from the new team (Phil Gallagher, Jim Bambra and Graeme Davis) attempted to depart from the then conventional mould of fantasy games. The Enemy Within campaign is a clear illustration of this.
In truth there probably wasn’t a set idea of what a WFRP adventure should look like in the beginning, and it fostered a broad range of adventure styles. Investigation, exploration and combat all featured.
These styles were mostly not novel. Shadows Over Bögenhafen was by design a Call of Cthulhu adventure. Death on the Reik was an evolution of D&D adventures like Night’s Dark Terror. Something Rotten in Kislev was in many senses a Paranoia adventure. Only Power Behind the Throne attempted something truly new, in my view.
Yet few of these styles had appeared in mainstream fantasy games (principally D&D/AD&D). Even fewer games of the time combined such a range of styles of play.
Not all the experiments were successful (most notably Something Rotten in Kislev), but they were for the most part. More than anything else, WFRP‘s adventures distinguished it from its peers.
The last post in this series will draw some conclusions.
Title art by John Blanche. Used without permission. No challenge intended to the rights holders.