I have rather given the game away with the title of this post, but I am delighted to be able to tell you that Graeme Davis very kindly agreed to be interviewed for this blog. It’s a privilege to have one of WFRP‘s leading lights share his thoughts and experiences here. I am grateful to Graeme for being so generous with his time.
You’ve talked before about Bushido and Call of Cthulhu being gaming influences, but what were the main literary influences on your WFRP work?
Aside from the various references and in-jokes, there were no conscious literary influences on my part. At the time, I was reading a lot of ghost stories by M R James, E F Benson, Algernon Blackwood, and others, so they may have affected my thinking unconsciously. Other unconscious influences might have been Fritz Lieber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories and the noir mysteries of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, all of which I had read in the preceding few years. The late 80s were a lean time for fantasy fiction of any quality, and I was reading mostly in other genres.
Warning. There follow spoilers for the Enemy Within campaign. Jump to the Lost Warhammer heading to avoid them.
Shadows Over Bögenhafen started with Marlowe’s Faust: I asked myself why anyone would make a pact knowing they would be dragged down to Hell at the end of seven years. So, I had the pact contain a let-out clause involving the sacrifice of seven other victims, who were conned into believing the ritual was actually going to make them rich, and since demons are centuries old and cunning in proportion, I had the whole thing be another con by which the demon hoped to curry favour with Tzeentch by opening a Chaos gate beneath the town. You could call Faust a literary influence, I guess, but only for the initial idea and the questions it made me ask.
THE ENEMY WITHIN
Do you have any memories of Enemy Within playtests? Did much change as a result of playtests?
The playtest I remember most clearly was the first playtest of Shadows Over Bögenhafen. I was still working on the plot, but we played through the Schaffenfest sequence and had a lot of fun. The dead Dwarf in the sewers is based on a character played by Chaz Elliott, the lead graphic designer, and the three-legged goblin was all improvised because I suddenly realized I had not planned how I was going to get the PCs to find the hidden temple. The goblin had to have three legs in order to outrun the PCs, some of whom were significantly faster than a standard goblin, according to the rules.
Power Behind the Throne initially sets an objective for the players to win influence over the Graf, but this is derailed by a finale that is quite unrelated. Do you know why this happened? Was it an editorial intervention?
The ending was the result of the need to tie the adventure into the main thread of the Enemy Within campaign, which involved the Purple Hand. As I have said elsewhere, Power Behind the Throne started as an AD&D adventure for the campaign that Carl ran for several friends at TSR UK, and it was adapted for WFRP.
Was any thought given to linking Power Behind the Throne better with the rest of The Enemy Within? There are several discontinuities (eg the gap after Death on the Reik, the dropped Wittgenstein lead).
I wasn’t privy to much of that process, unfortunately. Phil was working closely with Carl on Power Behind the Throne, while I was one of several people turning the excerpted Middenheim city section into Warhammer City.
You were given a co-author credit on Something Rotten in Kislev. How different was Ken Rolston’s original draft from the finished product?
The draft I got from Ken was unfinished, as his brief time in the UK had come to an end and he had to return to the US. He had focused very much on the parts he enjoyed writing, leaving the rest as a few lines of notes. I filled in the gaps, matching his style as best I could, and made a few corrections like removing Malal. The parts I remember writing from scratch are the introduction linking to Power Behind the Throne, the initial interview with the Tsar, and the boardgame-y “escape from the Dolgan horde” sequence. Everything else needed a lot of editing and filling in, though, which is why I got the co-writer credit.
What might Realms of Sorcery have looked like, had you been able to follow through on your original plans?
I never got down to detailed planning, but I pictured it as consisting of an improved magic system to replace the rough and hurried one in the rulebook, a lot of background on magical guilds and clerical magic, some new spellcasting professions with tailored spell lists (the Exorcist career was a rough start on this process: downloadable from here) – and lots of new spells and magical items. I think – but I can’t swear – that at least some of the new spells and items in the Warhammer Companion were written up from notes and thoughts I had had for Realms of Sorcery.
You have mentioned a proposal for a supplement to showcase Warhammer monsters (De Bestiis Chaotis). Can you tell us more about this?
My blog post from a few years ago covers this pretty well. I was increasingly chafing against my role as a developer of other people’s work, and wanted to write something of my own: since Shadows Over Bögenhafen I had only been allowed to write bits and pieces like ‘River Life of the Empire’ and the odd White Dwarf article. I also wanted to do something about the increasing perception among management that WFRP was not worth pursuing because it didn’t generate miniatures sales.
De Bestiis Chaotis was inspired in part by the old Judges’ Guild supplement The Book of Treasure Maps (see here) and in part by the semi-regular ‘Brief Encounter’ features from Imagine magazine. The idea was to present in-depth information about a monster, accompanied by an encounter to showcase it. I wrote a proposal and passed it up the chain of command, but heard nothing back.
When the call came out to generate briefs for outside writers to work from, I wrote up my idea for the Ambull and passed it along. To the best of my knowledge it is the only trace of De Bestiis Chaotis that saw print, although when Keith Baker and I co-wrote Creatures of Freeport for the d20 system, we used a lot of the same ideas.
Of the many WFRP products that were planned but never saw the light of day, what would you have most liked to have seen released?
At the time, I was most excited about Tetsubo, but the 80s fad for all things Japanese passed quickly and today it would probably be regarded as no more than a curiosity, much like AD&D Oriental Adventures or RuneQuest Land of Ninja. I think out of everything I hoped to see in print, De Bestiis Chaotis is my greatest regret, although as the writer responsible for much of the religion chapter I was also excited to delve deeper into the gods and their followers in Realms of Divine Magic, which was pitched briefly as an idea for turning Realms of Sorcery into a two-parter. And like many people, I would have liked to see what Phil would have come up with for The Horned Rat – we never got properly to grips with the Skaven in first edition – and like almost everyone, I would have loved to see his and Jim’s initial vision for the Enemy Within campaign allowed to take its full course.
What are your hopes for the new release of WFRP?
Most of all, I would like to see fourth edition become something that the entire WFRP fan community can rally round. Second edition was criticized for being set after the Storm of Chaos, which was a big deal in WFB circles around the time of its initial release but is all but forgotten today. Third edition divided the fan community even more, as many people did not like the component-heavy design and the dice-pool core mechanic. Online discussions became heated and sometimes personal, which is never a good thing. So far, I have seen most people agree that they would like to return to the first edition version of the Warhammer world, but with smoother mechanics – similar to second edition, perhaps, but not identical. This makes a lot of sense to me.
Thanks, again, to Graeme for his comments.
If you are interested in his other interviews on WFRP, there are links to some of them below. Graeme’s blog is also an excellent read.
Title art by Wil Rees. Used without permission. No challenge intended to the rights holders.