This post is part of a series describing the history of WFRP1. The first post can be read here.
There was no requirement for WFB1 to contain a default setting. Its purpose was to allow players to use a wide range of Citadel and Ral Partha miniatures, which included generic fantasy and science fiction figures, alongside various licensed and historical ones. It could have been argued WFB1 would best achieve its aims by being setting-agnostic.
Nonetheless WFB1 does contain many scattered references to a fantasy setting. The setting is unnamed and unmapped, but there are enough cross references to suggest they refer to a single world and are not just isolated inspirational examples (as apparently in Reaper).
There are various named characters: the wizards Estha, Skirrik, Elberath, Garathea, Grindlewood, Jigri, Morbihan, Niobe, Sidon and Psammon (‘Magic’, passim, ‘Characters’, p28); the “hero” Solomon Klomp (Tabletop Battles’, p25); and the “northmen” Wulfhand and Rothnik “Mad Hacker” Red Beard (‘Characters’, pp8 and 17). The names tell us very little about the world they inhabit, with the exception of the northmen’s, which seem to imply a Nordic setting. There is, however, a more extensive description of the world in the account of magic items:
The workshops of the small wooded area known as Borunna produce the finest steel blades generally available. Taught by Elven artificers, the craftsmen of Borunna have the ability to produce a limited number of Enchanted blades. They may be recognised easily by the famous ‘Borunna Rune’ which is embossed on one side and the ‘Name Rune’ on the other.
The Sorceror of the North, a Necromancer of great power, long held sway over a vast empire. Amongst the kingdoms of his sprawling domain none was so powerful as Aran-sul, and no artificers were so astute to evil as the Sorceror/Smiths of Aran-cabal. For many years they laboured, producing their dark swords which were but practice for the forging of Nec-Tomun – the Shadow death, hand arm of the Sorceror of the North. Eventually the free men of the world rallied and with the help of the smiths of Borunna overthrew the North Kingdoms and slew the Sorceror of the North. At that time most of the evil blades of Aran-cabal were destroyed, including Nec-Tomun – although some say the blade was lost and still lies hidden somewhere in the world.
Amongst the younger tribes of men are those known in the south as Northmen. After the overthrow of the Sorceror of the North these young and virulent [sic] people moved into the North lands and established a loose Kingdom. The Northmen are strong, hardy and fierce in battle. Their leaders are often simple wizards and the forging of fine weapons is a strong tradition with them. The Blodren Sword is a blade forged both to the highest standards and with magical aid.
Caraz-A-Carak is the strongest fortress of the Dwarves in the land of Caraz-Adul. In ancient times their blade-craft was legendary, although rarely today does their skill emulate the power of old. Amongst their many famous products are the heir-weapons of the noble Dwarf Houses. Each of the noble Dwarf Houses had a weapon made which would strengthen the nobler qualities peculiar to that House, these weapons were the epitome of the Dwarven art. They were passed on from generation to generation and regarded as the symbol of both Kingship and Pride. Each weapon was different, for instance the House of Branedimm has the warhammer ‘Foebane’, and the House of Gorr has the mighty two-handed sword ‘Sanxay’. Many of these weapons have been lost or destroyed – but at least a dozen still survive as treasured heirlooms.
‘Mozr Nobal’ is the heir-weapon of the Grimmson family. This is a small noble House of Dwarves with few famous members – and the weapon reflects their lack of great fortune. Mozr Nobal is a Sword of well forged steel, inscribed with the Caraz-Adul Dwarf Rune and the family Cypher.
Sceptres of Power … were made by the Elven smiths during the First Ages to maintain their power over the lesser races.
Vallariel was a great Elven King of the First Ages.
Dawnstone is the name to a flint or obsidian dagger or long knife…. Enchanted dawnstones … are very rare indeed…. Their power is mostly as an aid in ceremonial magic, summonation and elemental conjuration.
– Warhammer, first edition, ‘Magic’, pp33, 35
There is also some detail in the scenarios. ‘The Ziggurat of Doom’ refers to “the darkling woods of Dwarfstrangle” and mithril. It also mentions the hobgoblin Guthnog Bristlenose and a group of dwarfs called Sigurd Strongarm, Sigrat Blackbrow, Sigrun Slendershank, Skeggi Brokenback, Saugorn Brittlebone and Thorgrim Branedimm. ‘The Redwake River Valley’ provides a regional map, but this does not resemble any known location in the Warhammer world. It shows the Redwake and Buri Rivers, Cinder Island, the Black Mountains, Ordin Pass, Mount Borgann and hill of Mael Duin. It describes human settlements at Ath Cliath and Forseta (inhabited by “Fenmen”), the sea elf towns Fortrenn and Ailech, another elf settlement at Silberry Ferry, the dwarf fortress Dumuzil Hold and the wizard’s tower Menglad. There are also mentions of a fire dragon called Thelma, Troll Hills and a stone circle.
RP: The Warhammer game was developed to allow people to make use of the collections they already had. So, we looked at the range, and took copies of every single thing, all the blister pack and bag notes, and those became the races that were then incorporated into the game.
It wasn’t that we invented a world or a background for a game and then made models for it, we had a vast range of models already…
JS: …including Ral Partha, from America, which we made under license.
RP: And we also did RuneQuest figures under licence, Traveller figures under license, Star Trek under license, War of the Worlds, we made a range of gangsters, spaceships, Marlburians, Romans, Arabs… So, it was a very diverse range. The reason why the Warhammer world has got these human races in was because we made historical toy soldiers – mostly medieval, of course.
– Rick Priestley and John Stallard, Battlegames
The creatures included in WFB1’s bestiary were almost entirely determined by the miniatures Citadel manufactured at the time. They therefore mostly comprise generic fantasy creatures: elves, dwarfs, goblins, dragons and even balrogs. Warhammer‘s distinctive races, such as beastmen, skaven and slann are missing. There are, however, a few notable creatures. Menfish, jabberwocks, serpent crawlers, winged serpents and winged panthers all feature; of these only jabberwocks would survive to WFRP1. There are also some variations on the generic fantasy races. Goblins come in five types (goblins, lesser goblins, great goblins, red goblins and night goblins). There are also drow-inspired night elves (not at this stage dark elves).
Creatures in WFB1
One of the most striking aspects of this setting is how closely it resembles Tolkien’s Middle Earth. The Sorceror of the North, his lost sword Nec-Tomun and his overthrow echo Sauron, the Ruling Ring and the Last Alliance. Psammon follows Saruman (as I have discussed previously). And, of course, the conceptions of elves and dwarfs are more-or-less straight copies.
It is also notable that the setting is strictly mediaeval. There is no trace of WFRP1‘s Renaissance-era society.
The Warhammer world sort of largely evolved by accident. Initially Battle was largely medieval whereas Role Play was more Renaissance based. The two merged over time.
– Tony Ackland, Dear Tony Blair
But the most remarkable feature of the world described in WFB1 is to my mind the almost complete absence of Warhammer‘s quintessential feature, Chaos. There are no Chaos Powers. There are no creatures of Chaos and no mutations described in the rulebooks. The alignment system makes no mention of Law or Chaos; the only alignments are good, neutral, evil, avarice and hunger. There are various references to a future supplement covering Chaotic attributes and demons, but the content of WFB1 itself does not address the subject of Chaos.
Warhammer‘s distinctive humour was present from the start, with puns like Psammonella and Skeggi, but it is less prominent than in the next few editions.
RP: I think the reason why Warhammer took off despite its limitations was because it was full of energy and very gag-tastic. There was an element of fantasy gaming that was quite serious at that time, as the original splurge of roleplaying games of the late 70s had grown up a bit, and there was a very strong element who were into roleplaying games as a serious concept, and rules had started to develop into a very detailed, profound state, valuing mechanisms for their own sake, very furrowed brow. Chivalry and Sorcery was like that, and even RuneQuest had an element of that.
JS: And it’s undeniable there was a certain amount of American versus British feeling there – the Americans struck me as terribly serious at that time, and the gaming, in my opinion, seemed a bit dull, and when Rick wrote Warhammer, of course with some guidance from Bryan, it was irreverent, it was very funny. Dwarves were characterized as grim Northerners, Orcs were dodgy south Londoners, elves as not quite manly, effete southerners… It was all just such great fun!
RP: Well, that sort of characterization was driven by a very British sense of humour, very Pythonesque in places, and certainly irreverent, to the point of being a bit ‘sixth-form’ to be honest. That was definitely something that Hal and I brought to it, because Hal did a lot of the original writing on Warhammer.
– Rick Priestley and John Stallard, Battlegames
Overall, the setting described in WFB1 is very different from that of WFRP1. Aside from generic fantasy creatures, the only elements of the original background that would survive were jabberwocks, dawnstones and Caraz-A-Carak. Given that just three years separated WFB1 and WFRP1, a lot changed in a short time.
Moreover, the relationship between the setting and the game also changed. In WFRP1 the setting was clearly integral to the game, but in WFB1 the situation was not so so clear. The setting is nowhere described as a default, and there is a reference at one point to an “Italian Princess” (‘Characters’, p18), which appears to envisage the rules being used in historical settings.
You know, in my mind, Warhammer was always an ancients or medieval wargame with fantasy bits bolted on. I built it that way.
– Rick Priestley, ibid
The impression is that the setting described in WFB1 just one of many possible worlds in which gamers could play. This is the approach taken in the early published scenarios. ‘Thistlewood’ (WD45) uses an unidentified fantasy setting, ‘Minas Tirith’ (WD53) is set in Middle Earth and ‘Warhammer and Science Fiction’ (the first Citadel Compendium) introduces space opera settings. Alternative settings would persist alongside the Warhammer world up to 1987 (eg ‘Giaks and Gourgaz’ in the first Citadel Journal, ‘The Eternal Champion’ in the third Citadel Journal and the aborted Mournblade supplement).
Yet it is also clear that WFB1‘s setting occupies a privileged position. No other setting receives the same attention. Over time it would squeeze out competing worlds.
Title art by John Blanche. Used without permission. No challenge intended to the rights holders.