This post continues my history of WFRP1, which started here.

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

– Rick Priestley, interview on CigarBoxBattle

… The name was taken from the Blue Oyster Cult song “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” a jukebox favourite following its release in 1976….

– Rick Priestley, interview on Grognardia

Reaper was developed from the system used by the Lincoln Order of Necromancers for its fantasy games.

Reaper was born from two things: a fantasy campaign that Hal [Richard Halliwell] ran, and our mutual ambition to publish a set of wargames rules. … Our collection of rules and notes became Reaper….

– Rick Priestley, interview on Grognardia

These rules are… the work of the Lincoln Order of Necromancers…. [and] are the result of 5 years of fantasy wargaming – they are not merely an exploitation of the present fantasy trends.

Reaper, first edition, p1 (1978)

Work began on the game at some point before Priestley left school in 1977 and continued during a gap year before he started university in 1978.

We developed and wrote the game – and I’m not sure exactly when, but I was still at school at the time.

– Rick Priestley, interview on CigarBoxBattle

I got the job of putting the book together…. I think by this time – probably late ’77 and early ’78 – Hal was at Nottingham University, so he was travelling a lot between Nottingham and Lincoln, acting as go between. I was out of school but wouldn’t go off to college until late ’78, so I guess I had some time on my hands.

– Rick Priestley, interview on Grognardia

Efforts to publish Reaper brought in two more names important to the history of Warhammer: Bryan Ansell and Tony Ackland. Ansell had set up Asgard Miniatures in 1976, and in 1978 sold his Asgard stake to set up Citadel Miniatures with GW’s Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone (see further part XXVI). Ackland had met Ansell at a convention and started sculpting miniatures and providing illustrations for Asgard and Citadel.

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, interview on CigarBoxBattle

Bryan Ansell and Tony Ackland

I did the basic production work, finalising the text and drawing up the few diagrams, adding the headers using rub-down Letraset transfers. Hal sorted out the cover and a friend drew the cover illustration. Bryan added a nice sketch of Hal onto the credit page – not a bad likeness either!

– Rick Priestley, interview on Grognardia

Bryan Ansell’s likeness of Richard Halliwell, from Reaper, first edition (1978), p76

Reaper was first published in 1978 by Tabletop Games (TTG) as a single typed-and-illustrated black-and-white booklet. TTG made miniatures and printed rulesets under the stewardship of Bob Connor, who also ran the Nottingham Model Soldier Shop. In 1981 TTG published a second edition of Reaper, again by Halliwell and Priestley, and a scenario, Attack of the Fungoid Trolls, by Ansell and Halliwell.

Reaper, first edition (1978, left) and second edition (1981, centre), by Richard Halliwell and Rick Priestley, and Attack of the Fungoid Trolls (1981, right), by Bryan Ansell and Richard Halliwell

Reaper is at its core a percentile system and has some significant differences from WFB. Nonetheless, the bones of the Warhammer system can be seen in its rules.


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 is a two-stage process, which not coincidentally resembles the combat process of WFB in a number of respects.

The first stage determines the number of hits. Each individual has a % to Hit score, which indicates the probability of landing a blow. Unlike hit rolls in WFB, 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, rather like WFB‘s wound rolls.

There is no equivalent to the third stage of WFB‘s combat process, the armour saving throw. Armour is instead reflected in the second stage by increasing SV.

A curious feature of Reaper‘s combat process is that 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.

In this respect Reaper is quite unlike the system in WFB. It also departs from the percentile systems in The Old West and Colonial Skirmish Wargames (see part I), which rolled separately for individual models. I am unaware of any precedent for such a mechanism. I presume it was an innovation to scale up a percentile system to cope with larger numbers of models.

The Reaper rules were actually more of a battle game than the games we were actually playing, mostly because our role-playing elements were pretty much done free-form by the umpire without any rules as such. There was a lot of ‘it’s up to you’ in the game system and that’s something I think both of us felt was key to the game. I think we were rebelling against the ‘rules are rules and must be obeyed as holy writ’ style of game that was more usual at the time (and since!).

– Rick Priestley, interview on Grognardia

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 [sic] some people loved that. It became quite a successful little system in its own right.

– Rick Priestley, interview on Battlegames


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.


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, and in many respects foreshadows the spell system of Ars Magica, which would not appear until nearly a decade later (1987). The Reaper authors acknowledged the system’s idiosyncratic 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 (1981)

The system was not entirely without precedent, however. Isaac Bonewitz expressed similar ideas in Real Magic (1972) and Authentic Thaumaturgy (1978), and Chivalry and Sorcery (1977) implemented a magic system based on Bonewitz’s writing.

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, as in WFB1. Spellcasting uses up a magic user’s Constitution Points (CP), as in WFB1 and WFB2. 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.


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 kept corgis as pets).

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


Reaper laid the foundations for Warhammer Fantasy Battle. Many of its mechanics are clear ancestors of those of the later game. Moreover, the writing of Reaper created personal connections in the wargaming community that would reappear at Games Workshop and directly affect Warhammer‘s development.

Reaper was the gateway that introduced Hal and myself to the world of miniature manufacture and rules publishing, and most importantly to Bryan Ansell who would later go on to recruit both of us into Citadel and hence Games Workshop. Two other players who took part in our Reaper games (members of what we called LOON – the Lincoln Order of Necromancers) also joined Citadel – before me – Paul Elsey, who became a mould maker, and Anthony Epworth, who became the shop floor manager and subsequently a mould maker. So really, we have a lot to thank Bryan Ansell for, and none of it would have happened without Reaper.

– Rick Priestley, interview on Grognardia


The following chart summarises the chronology of this post relative to others in this section of ‘The WFRP Story’.

The next post in this series looks at other precursors of Warhammer.

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



  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.


    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.


  2. Another great read, this one on a topic that haunted me for years.

    My first introduction to the Reaper ruleset came from reading a battle report in GM magazine from the early 90’s. A huge six player game played at Joe Dever’s house. I must have read that account of the game a million times. Unfortunately I was not able to track the rule system down for many many years… internet and living in Aus (non for sale in the stores) meant that there was no way of finding it.

    When I did manage to get a hold of it I was really impressed with the magic system. It’s like a game within a game. You have to create the spell mechanics for each spell you want to equip you magic user with. Quite a lengthy process, but a very creative and unique system as well.

    Thanks very much for writing this article. A real trip down memory lane for me 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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