THE WFRP STORY II: REAPER

The first game I had published was co-written with Richard Halliwell – it was a fantasy wargame – and it was called Reaper.

We developed and wrote the game – and I’m not sure exactly when, but I was still at school at the time. I would have produced a typescript. This in itself was unusual – not many households had a typewriter in the mid-70’s and very few teenage boys could type – but my mother was a shorthand secretary and typist, so we had an old typewriter at home. So, we got the game together first, and then we started looking for a publisher. It was Bryan Ansell, of Asgard Miniatures (based in Nottingham) who put us in touch with the owners of the Nottingham Model Soldier Shop, who eventually published Reaper for us. I did all the text production work on that typewriter, and Bryan Ansell had a contact who added artwork, that turned out to be Tony Ackland. These were all people I would later work with at Games Workshop.

– Rick Priestley, Cigarbox Battle

Origins 7

Reaper was first published in 1978 by Tabletop Games (TTG), with a second edition appearing in 1981. It appeared as a single typed black-and-white booklet with illustrations by Tony Yates and Tony Ackland. The rules have some significant differences from WFB (most notably their reliance on D100, rather than D6), but the bones of the Warhammer system can be seen in them.

MOVEMENT

As in Warhammer, characters have a Move score which expresses the distance they may move in inches (for 25mm scale). Unlike Warhammer, though, Move has three separate values, for Walk, Trot and Run.

Reaper’s rules for flying creatures are almost identical to those used later in WFB2 and WFRP1. Vertical elevation is handled in bands, and creatures are classified as swoopers, hoverers and landers.

COMBAT

Combat is a two-stage process in Reaper.

The first stage determines the number of hits. In Reaper each individual has a % to Hit score, which indicates the probability of landing a blow. Unlike WFB, though, no comparison is made with a defender’s attributes in the hit calculation.

The second stage calculates how many casualties result from the hits. Each attack has a Kill Factor (KF) and each defender has a Strength Value (SV). A table compares KF and SV to calculate a percentile probability of a kill for each hit. There is no armour saving throw. Armour increases SV, instead.

Despite the small differences, the two stages described above clearly resemble WFB’s combat process. There is, however, one more fundamental difference. In Reaper each model’s attacks are not rolled separately. Instead the scores of all models in a unit are totalled. One hit or kill is delivered for each 100% in the total. Amounts less than 100% are rolled as a percentile probability of a hit. For example, a unit of 10 troops each with % to Hit scores of 35 would have an aggregate % to Hit of 350, which would mean three hits and a 50% chance of a fourth.

The drawback to such an approach is obvious:

The problem with this system was that it was very deterministic, because you were always rolling for the marginal numbers, so it became very predictable, and but some people loved that. It became quite a successful little system in its own right.

– Rick Priestley, Battlegames

PSYCHOLOGY

Psychology in Reaper is confined to two effects. Intelligent creatures make a morale test and unintelligent creatures make a panic test. Both are made in a similar way. Morale tests are modified by troops’ Morale Value (A to E, A being the highest), their commander’s Leadership Factor (a numerical modifier) and a range of circumstantial factors.  Panic tests are modified by the Control Factor of the creature’s handler (similar to Leadership Factor) and circumstantial factors.

The range of psychological effects is thus narrower than Warhammer. Nonetheless, some of the beginnings of Warhammer‘s psychology system can be seen.

MAGIC

Reaper‘s magic rules do not simply comprise a list of predefined spell effects. They provide a systematic basis for generating a wide range of spell effects. Magical effects are deconstructed into factors, such as duration, range, area of effect and type of effect. The factors are then used to calculate a difficulty for a spell effect. This is compared with the wizard’s Grade (from A to Z, A being the lowest) to calculate the percentage probability of a successful casting.

The system is very unusual by the standards of the day. The closest contemporary was probably Isaac Bonewits’ Authentic Thaumaturgy (1978), though I suspect there was no direct relationship between the two games. In many respects Reaper foreshadows the spell system of Ars Magica, which would not appear until nearly a decade later (1987).*

The Reaper authors acknowledged the system’s unusual character:

These magic rules may differ from any set the player has previously encountered in several important aspects. Perhaps it is fair to say that these are not magical rules at all, but a costing system.

Reaper, second edition, p33

Reaper did also contain some predefined spells. The list contains no spells that survived into Warhammer (though the sense of humour that created the Swords into Flowers spell would carry on).

Reaper Spells

There were some elements which would reappear in WFB, however. After a spell is cast, a magic user needs recovery time before casting another spell. Spellcasting uses up a magic user’s Constitution Points. The cost to CP depends on the difficulty of the spell and whether or not the spell was successful (failed spells drain more CP). Magic users can also specialise as necromancers, summoners (like Warhammer demonologists) or elementalists. There were no illusionists, though the mechanics do leave room for such a specialism.

BACKGROUND

Reaper did not detail its own setting. There are scattered mentions of wizards and gods (eg the deities Aarlum, Calyn, Tanith, Ashra, Dona and Aleel), but none that resemble anything that would appear in Warhammer. The fantastic creatures mentioned in Reaper seem to be heavily influenced by D&D. They are a familiar mix drawn from mythology (centaurs, griffons, unicorns, dwarfs), fantasy literature (halflings, orcs, tree men), palaeontology (pterodactyls) and direct borrowings from D&D (owl bears). There is even a humorous reference to “fat corgis” (Queen Elizabeth II keeps corgis as pets).

The scenario Attack of the Fungoid Trolls contains some more details of Halliwell and Ansell’s fantasy settings. I have never seen this supplement, but it is described below:

There are some obvious motifs taken from Dungeons & Dragons, the Hill, Stone, Frost and Fire Giants, regenerating Trolls and the Red Dragons for example. There is also the perennial Warhammer obsession with mutants and Chaos and a kind of precursor to the Death World concept that arose in Rogue Trader and would resurface with Warhammer 8th Edition terrain.

The forces of the Evil Necromancer Macarbres Dwight IV clash against the Astothian army in the Mutant Woods. The Marcarbres raiding party boasts a fine display of Ogres, Giants, Trolls and Acolytes, whereas the Astothians are a rugged mixed human infantry and cavalry army centred on a group of adventurers. The woods themselves are full of deadly and treacherous vegetation.

– Zhu Bajiee, Realm of Zhu

FOOTNOTE

* Since writing this I have become aware that Chivalry and Sorcery (1977) used similar ideas about magic. It was published a year before Reaper and could have been an influence. C&S drew on Isaac Bonewits’ ideas, though from his earlier, non-gaming book Real Magic (1972).

The next post in this series will look at another ancestor of Warhammer.

The first post in the series is here.

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

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2 thoughts on “THE WFRP STORY II: REAPER

  1. A compelling piece of history. In fact, I’ve never been a fan of tabletop war games (thought I gave them a try) but it’s interesting to see how they underlay WFRP.

    Your series reminds me of a similar project on the Realm of Chaos 80s blog which, however, is more WFB-oriented. Please, keep on writing, I’d like to know how WFRP had been developed and what had determined its final shape.

    Like

    1. Thanks for the encouragement. I have never read the Realm of Chaos 80s posts you mention (though it’s a great blog). I’ll check them out, though perhaps after I’ve written my posts.

      Like you, I’m not a wargamer. As much as I love WFRP, I’ve never really enjoyed WFB. So these posts will probably be at their weakest when discussing the battle side, but it’s an important part of the story, nonetheless.

      Like

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