The origins of Warhammer and WFRP lie in the 1970s and a nexus of wargamers in England’s Midlands. Most of the names involved will be familiar to followers of GW: Rick Priestley, Richard Halliwell, Bryan Ansell, Tony Ackland. Some, such as Bob Connors, might be less well known.

Priestley and Halliwell were friends at school and had a strong interest in playing wargames. Initially they were historical games. They began by playing Charles Grant’s World War 2 wargame Battle: Practical Wargames (1970), but they moved on to playing with ancients, for example with Phil Barker, Bob O’Brien and Ed Smith’s Ancient Wargame Rules (1969), published by the Wargames Research Group (WRG).

In time Priestley and Halliwell started playing games based on fantasy and science fiction:

The initial impetus to play fantasy wargames came from The Lord of the Rings, which was huge in the 1960s. I think I read it when I was about 12 or 13, not least because The Hobbit was a set text in my first year [ie at secondary school]. So I read The Hobbit and that gave me the impetus to go on and read The Lord of the Rings. And like many people at the time, I became obsessed with The Lord of the Rings, to the extent that I can still quote from it quite extensively. And remember, I was already gaming with ancients, using the early WRG rules, and me and Hal and a few mates from school started a project, to make Lord of the Rings armies from existing model ranges.

– Rick Priestley, Battlegames

We had been fantasy gaming, usually in a science fiction context, often inspired by Philip José Farmer, Michael Moorcock, and those authors who were writing speculative “what if” fiction, so we had a mixture of science fiction and fantasy. And there were quite a lot of books that used that as a basis, and we’d read most or all of them, in the way that you do.

– Rick Priestley, Battlegames

Priestley and Halliwell’s style of play also moved on and they began playing skirmish games. In particular they played two games by the Skirmish Wargames Group (SWG): The Old West Skirmish Wargames 1816-1900 (1975, revised 1978), by Ian Colwill and Mike Blake, and Colonial Skirmish Wargames 1850-1900 (1972), by Ian Colwill, Mike Blake, Steve Curtis and Ted Herbert.

The games we were playing were very roleplay and skirmishes. For example, you and your horde of goblins had arrived at the wizard’s tower and you intend[ed] to assault it and burn it to the ground, not knowing that meanwhile, a third player was bringing some knights on from round the corner, or from the kitchen or wherever it was! And that the wizard himself was actually summoning some demons, and that he was the enemy of this third player, and so on and so forth! And it would be run as a roleplaying scenario, presided over by an umpire who knew all the little secrets and who provided you with the map that showed what was going on, but didn’t tell you that it was the wrong map…

– Rick Priestley, Battlegames

When Dungeons & Dragons came along, we were already doing something very similar, playing fantasy-based skirmish games with personalities inspired by the Skirmish Wargames Group, which was Mike Blake, and his mates, who produced two books that I know of. One was Wild West Skirmish [sic], and the other one was Colonial Skirmish. They were fantastic books and really inspiring. They had lots of individual combat, so they were an early form of roleplaying, but in the context of the skirmish wargame. So, based on toy soldier wargaming, but still with that element of roleplaying. That was where I came in. D&D then came out, and when Richard Halliwell and I first saw it, we thought “They’ve stolen our ideas!” But of course, Gary Gygax and his crew in America had been doing that for years already. So, they were ahead of the curve, but we had had no knowledge of that – this was, after all, the 1970s, when often what happened beyond the confines of your village was a mystery!

– Rick Priestley, Battlegames

Priestley and Halliwell also starting designing their own games:

We just always [designed games] – myself and also some of my closest school friends, one of whom was Richard Halliwell.

Many of the early (60s/early 70s) books about wargaming guided you through the author’s decisions; things like ground scale, ranges, formations, and so on. The reasoning was explained. So, the idea of making games up for yourself was embedded in the first games we played.

– Rick Priestley, Cigarbox Battles

Priestley and Halliwell worked together to publish two sets of rules. The first was a set of fantasy rules, Reaper (1978 and 1981), which would be an important foundation for WFB. The second was Combat 3000 (1979), which was a set of science-fiction wargaming rules. Both were published by Bob Connors’ Tabletop Games (TTG). Connors ran a Nottingham wargames shop, made miniatures and printed rulesets.

TTG also published a number of supplements and follow-ups to Reaper and Combat 3000. These were not just the work of Priestley and Halliwell, but brought in two more names familiar from GW: Bryan Ansell and Tony Ackland. Ansell had set up Asgard Miniatures in 1976, and in 1977 sold his Asgard stake and set up Citadel Miniatures with GW’s Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. Ackland had met Ansell at a convention and started sculpting miniatures and providing illustrations for Asgard and Citadel. Collectively this group produced the Reaper scenario Attack of the Fungoid Trolls (Ansell and Halliwell, TTG, 1981); the Combat 3000 expansion Combat 3001 (Halliwell, TTG, 1981); two new science fiction games Laserburn (Ansell, TTG, 1980) and Imperial Commander (Halliwell and Ansell, 1981); and a pair of Laserburn supplements: Forces of the Imperium (Ansell, TTG, 1982) and Advanced Laserburn & Aliens (Ackland, 1983). All four would, of course, end up working together at GW in the 80s.

The next post looks at Priestley and Halliwell’s first published set of fantasy rules: Reaper.

An introduction to this series can be found here.

Title art by John Blanche. Used without permission. No challenge intended to the rights holders.


6 thoughts on “THE WFRP STORY I: ORIGINS

  1. Incredible how fast it moved, really – from homebrew-looking stuff like Reaper and Laserburn to WFRP1 in just a few years.


    1. Yes, you’re right. There was a marked and rapid improvement in professionalism. It took just three years to go from WFB2’s hand-typed misspellings to WFB3’s professional colour (though there were still some homebrew pxx’s until 1987, just to make us feel at home).


  2. Hey, just wanting to let you know that I’ve posted this blogpost to

    I’m the active mod for the sub and it’s more or less my role to help the subreddit not only survive but thrive. Discovering this blog was quite surprising, it seems lots of the old blogs too are becoming active again. I’d pretty much like to ask if you’d be interested in posting to the subreddit whenever you make a blogpost as I’m damn sure the sub will be super interested! If you are then please do message me /u/The_WFRP_Companion and I’ll flair you up too for this awesome work, I’ve already read a good chunk of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment and for mentioning this blog on the subreddit. I don’t generally post to social media and don’t want to be a spammer, but I’d be happy to post updates since you requested. And please feel free to share the blog wherever you like!


  3. Nice stuff! I would very much like to translate it into spanish. A few readers of our web will be very interested in knowing about the origins of WFRP, but they don’t speak english.


    1. Hi. I’m glad you like the series. You are very welcome to translate it. Please provide proper attribution and a link to the site, if you want to do that. Also please send me a link, perhaps here in the comments (hablo un poquito de español).

      There is, though, already a Google Translate option for the site. Click on the menu button in the top right, go to Translate and select Spanish. I have tried it and found the Spanish translation actually very good, but I am not a native speaker.


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