It is well known that originally WFRP was a reaction against D&D. I have commented on this before in my WFRP Manifesto posts. I thought it might also be interesting to look at the matter from the D&D side.
There was a D&D manifesto of sorts. In the mid 1990s TSR had a Code of Ethics, apparently in response to the moral panic of the 1980s. Of course it postdates the creation of first edition WFRP, but it is interesting just how different its ideas were from WFRP‘s design agenda.
TSR CODE OF ETHICS
1: GOOD VERSUS EVIL
Evil shall never be portrayed in an attractive light and shall be used only as a foe to illustrate a moral issue. All product shall focus on the struggle of good versus injustice and evil, casting the protagonist as an agent of right. Archetypes (heroes, villains, etc.) shall be used only to illustrate a moral issue. Satanic symbology, rituals, and phrases shall not appear in TSR products.
Right from the beginning the contrast is stark. D&D‘s moral absolutism is diametrically opposed to WFRP‘s shades of grey. The idea that good always wins is almost the inverse of WFRP, where the rise of Chaos is generally portrayed with an element of fatalism. And of course there was no shortage of goats’ heads and pentagrams in WFRP.
2: NOT FOR DUPLICATION
TSR products are intended to be fictional entertainment, and shall not present explicit details and methods of crime, weapon construction, drug use, magic, science, or technologies that could be reasonably duplicated and misused in real life situations. These categories are only to be described for story drama and effect/results in the game or story.
3: AGENTS OF LAW ENFORCEMENT
Agents of law enforcement (constables, policemen, judges, government officials, and respected institutions) should not be depicted in such a way as to create disrespect for current established authorities/social values. When such an agent is depicted as corrupt, the example must be expressed as an exception and the culprit should ultimately be brought to justice.
4: CRIME AND CRIMINALS
Crimes shall not be presented in such ways as to promote distrust of law enforcement agents/agencies or to inspire others with the desire to imitate criminals. Crime should be depicted as a sordid and unpleasant activity. Criminals should not be presented in glamorous circumstances. Player character thieves are constantly encouraged to act towards the common good.
I think many WFRP players would laugh at the idea that they should blindly trust law enforcement!
Monsters in TSR’s game systems can have good or evil goals. As foes of the protagonists, evil monsters should be able to be clearly defeated in some fashion. TSR recognizes the ability of an evil creature to change its ways and become beneficial, and does not exclude this possibility in the writing of this code.
WFRP‘s first edition didn’t really embrace the idea of evil creatures changing their ways. Goblinoids were always evil. Skaven were always worse.
It’s an approach that seems somewhat inconsistent with WFRP‘s less black-and-white attitude to morality. A less rigid approach could have created a richer background. For example, a rogue skaven could make an interesting seed for a scenario…
Profanity, obscenity, smut, and vulgarity will not be used.
7: DRAMA AND HORROR
The use of drama or horror is acceptable in product development. However, the detailing of sordid vices or excessive gore shall be avoided. Horror, defined as the presence of uncertainty and fear in the tale, shall be permitted and should be implied, rather than graphically detailed.
Realm of Chaos‘ unrelentingly grotesque artwork is about as far from this guideline as it’s possible to get.
8: VIOLENCE AND GORE
All lurid scenes of excessive bloodshed, gory or gruesome crimes, depravity, lust, filth, sadism, or masochism, presented in text or graphically, are unacceptable. Scenes of unnecessary violence, extreme brutality, physical agony, and gore, including but not limited to extreme graphic or descriptive scenes presenting cannibalism, decapitation, evisceration, amputation, or other gory injuries, should be avoided.
I’m fairly sure WFRP‘s critical hit tables would not have passed this test.
9: SEXUAL THEMES
Sexual themes of all types should be avoided. Rape and graphic lust should never be portrayed or discussed. Explicit sexual activity should not be portrayed. The concept of love or affection for another is not considered part of this definition.
Nudity is only acceptable, graphically, when done in a manner that complies with good taste and social standards. Degrading or salacious depiction is unacceptable. Graphic display of reproductive organs, or any facsimiles will not be permitted.
Disparaging graphic or textual references to physical afflictions, handicaps and deformities are unacceptable. Reference to actual afflictions or handicaps is acceptable only when portrayed or depicted in a manner that favorably educates the consumer on the affliction and in no way promotes disrespect.
In its first edition WFRP pretty much universally treated mutants as cannon fodder.
12: MATTERS OF RACE
Human and other non-monster character races and nationalities should not be depicted as inferior to other races. All races and nationalities shall be fairly portrayed.
Slavery is not to be depicted in a favorable light; it should only be represented as a cruel and inhuman institution to be abolished.
14: RELIGION AND MYTHOLOGY
The use of religion in TSR products is to assist in clarifying the struggle between good and evil. Actual current religions are not to be depicted, ridiculed, or attacked in any way that promotes disrespect. Ancient or mythological religions, such as those prevalent in ancient Grecian, Roman and Norse societies, may be portrayed in their historic roles (in compliance with this Code of Ethics.) Any depiction of any fantasy religion is not intended as a presentation of an alternative form of worship.
15: MAGIC, SCIENCE, AND TECHNOLOGY
Fantasy literature is distinguished by the presence of magic, super-science or artificial technology that exceeds natural law. The devices are to be portrayed as fictional and used for dramatic effect. They should not appear to be drawn from reality. Actual rituals (spells, incantations, sacrifices, etc.), weapon designs, illegal devices, and other activities of criminal or distasteful nature shall not be presented or provided as reference.
16: NARCOTICS AND ALCOHOL
Narcotic and alcohol abuse shall not be presented, except as dangerous habits. Such abuse should be dealt with by focusing on the harmful aspects.
WFRP contained rules for PC drug abuse!
17: THE CONCEPT OF SELF IN ROLE PLAYING GAMES
The distinction between players and player characters shall be strictly observed.
It is standard TSR policy to not use ‘you’ in its advertising or role playing games to suggest that the users of the game systems are actually taking part in the adventure. It should always be clear that the player’s imaginary character is taking part in whatever imaginary action happens during game play. For example, ‘you’ don’t attack the orcs–‘your character’ Hrothgar attacks the orcs.
18: LIVE ACTION ROLE-PLAYING
It is TSR policy to not support any live action role-playing game system, no matter how nonviolent the style of gaming is said to be. TSR recognizes the physical dangers of live action role-playing that promotes its participants to do more than simply imagine in their minds what their characters are doing, and does not wish any game to be harmful.
19: HISTORICAL PRESENTATIONS
While TSR may depict certain historical situations, institutions, or attitudes in a game product, it should not be construed that TSR condones these practices.
In total, I think WFRP was diametrically opposed to almost half of this agenda. If it breaks the TSR Code of Ethics, it’s probably right at home in WFRP.
Title art by Jeff Easley. Used without permission. No challenge intended to the rights holders.