Laserburn was a set of science fiction wargames rules published in 1980 by Tabletop Games (TTG). It was written by Bryan Ansell and illustrated by Tony Ackland and Tony Yates.
Is that a genestealer on the cover?
It is most interesting as an ancestor of Warhammer 40,000 and contains many elements that would reappear in that game: power armour, dreadnought armour, the Imperium, the Inquisition, Merchant Barons who closely resemble Rogue Traders.
However, several features are also relevant to the Warhammer Fantasy games. In terms of mechanics, Laserburn provides the origin of Warhammer‘s Initiative system and the first appearance of Weapon Skill. Skills also make an appearance, though it is interesting to note that, unlike in Warhammer, they can be taken multiple times and characters can thus have different skill levels. Some of the skills will sound somewhat familiar to WFRP players (eg Lightning Reactions and Ambidexterity), but most will not.
An experience system allows characteristics and skills to be advanced. For every 100 Experience Points Initiative is increased by 1, Combat and Weapon Skill are increased pro rata and there is a 50% chance of a skill increase. It is a system that shares many features with WFRP: characteristic advances, choices of skills and the 100-point threshold. But there are also several differences: Experience Points are accumulated like D&D, not spent like WFRP, and there are no careers or advance schemes.
The Laserburn background also features religious extremists called the Red Redemption, who would reappear later in WFB:
The force of the Red Redemption, both regular military units and the fanatical civilian hordes [who] follow the cry for a holy war, are led, both militarily and spiritually, by the Brothers and Masters of the inner circle. These rabid fanatics have their flesh flayed from them and replaced with a metal carapace. They’re pretty tough hombres, but their unique condition tends to warp their view of life, morality and the universe in general considerably.
The Redemptionists devote themselves to Allah, Lord of the fiery hells, and to his mouthpiece on the Dark Worlds, the Prophet Zandrig.
– Laserburn, p37
The next post in the series looks at the birth of Warhammer itself.
The first post in this series can be found here.