THE WFRP STORY XXXVII: WARPS

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

With new writers came a new name. In June 1986 Warhammer Role-Play was given the new, grander title of Warhammer Advanced Role-Play System (WARPS).

Just what exactly is WARPS? Staff at Games Workshop’s Design Studio in Nottingham seem to be obsessed with WARPS these days, and the disease has spread to engulf several other illuminati from the gaming world. Paul Vernon and Graeme Davis are engaged in long-term projects to do with this strange entity – which is probably why White Dwarf is advertising for new contributors.

In fact, Graeme Davis is to become the latest recruit to the happy band of GW workers. For those who don’t bother with by-lines on articles, GD has been writing magazine material for the last three or so years, and has appeared in WD as recently as #77! Paul Vernon has chiefly been busy working on his FateMaster solo gamebooks, but some readers will remember his Starstone frp campaign, from which WD published selected bits a few years back.

What are they up to? And why are Rick Priestly [sic], Richard Halliwell, Jervis Johnson and others continually disappearing into corners to mutter blood-curdling phrases about Aztec frogs. [sic] WARPS, maybe, but warped, definitely.

– ‘Fracas!’, White Dwarf 78 (June 1986)

Paul Vernon was a freelance writer, who had made regular contributions to White Dwarf and Imagine, and had written the Starstone generic fantasy campaign set.

Before I joined GW, Bryan Ansell had been in discussions with Paul Vernon, author of several pretty good WD articles on campaigns and fantasy town design as well as the Starstone supplement. He was going to be one of our key external writers.

– Graeme Davis, comment on Awesome Lies

Vernon ultimately received a credit in the WFRP1 rulebook for “additional material”, though what that material was is unknown to me.

The spate of transfers from TSR to GW continues unabated. Following Tom Kirby and the editor of this esteemed magazine [Paul Cockburn] up the A1, the GW removals service can now reveal that Jim Bambra and Phil Gallagher are to join the design team in Nottingham, just in time to be drawn into the WARPS playtests.

Development of the roleplay version of the Warhammer game is now proceeding at a frenetic pace now that new writer/editor/coffee monitor Graeme Davis has been chained to the GW Amstrad. The system is based on a complex, though easy-in-use[,] character generation system, which provides a pre-adventuring background for the characters and a series of “advances” which must be fulfilled to rise to the next “level”. The combat system is fast, bloody and suitably chaotic, as you would expect from Rick Priestley, who wrote the critical hits table after watching late-night re-runs of [The] Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Although it will be fully compatible with the Battle game, there are a number of new developments which will make for exciting and bizarre adventures in a dark and brooding earth-like world. One small thing. Not everyone is convinced GW have come up with the mega-knock-’em-over title of the century in Warhammer Advanced RolePlay System, so WD readers are invited to send in their ideas. We hope this doesn’t lead to the same flood of Samantha Fox rpg entries as last month’s caption contest. Let’s hurry up with this, guys ‘n’ gals, the game is supposed to be out in November.

– ‘Fracas!’. White Dwarf 79 (July 1986)

It is notable that this comment picks up on the careers system and “dark and brooding” setting. GW seems to have been well aware that they were some of the new game’s most distinctive features.

The new writing team set to work preparing the draft role-playing rules for publication.

… Faced with the tons of stuff already written, and under pressure to get the thing finished and published, Jim and I focused more on giving the rulebook some structure, fleshing out the guidance for new or inexperienced GMs….

As I recall now, the bulk of my work was editing and tweaking, rather than generating new material. I worked hard to make the rules as clear and unambiguous as I could – but feared the thing was going to be, basically, impenetrable!

– Phil Gallagher, Realm of Chaos 80s

Some substantial changes were made to the system at this time. Two new characteristics, Dexterity and Fellowship, were added, and most were switched to a percentile scale.

Jim and Phil joined the team shortly after I did, and went over the mechanics and attributes. For a long time, the character stats were identical to WFB2, and things like percentile attributes, Fellowship and what have you were very much last-minute changes.

– Graeme Davis, Warpstone 5 (Spring 1997)

As the weeks went by, the system shifted. Character stats started out being identical to Warhammer Battle, but we found that a 1-10 scale didn’t give us the resolution a roleplaying game needed, so many were switched to percentile.

– Graeme Davis, Realm of Chaos 80s

The move to percentile characteristics was a natural one. Percentile mechanics had for some time been widely used in RPGs like RuneQuest and Call of Cthulhu, with which Graeme Davis especially was familiar. Rick Priestley and Richard Halliwell had also used them previously in Reaper.

Percentage dice – D100s if you like – imply a mathematical profundity and precision that I believe we found appealing at the time [we wrote Reaper]. They give a feel of a serious and proper game – something more realistic than could be achieved with a D6. I still maintain that D100s give that feel to a game, though I would also suggest that it is a ‘feel’ only and in fact such mechanics are neither more realistic nor more accurate in terms of simulation. D100s can be remarkably unhelpful because of the even spread of probability, making fluky scores rather more common that you might wish. I would go on to use a D100 system for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, but we had to ameliorate the fluke element with ‘fate points’ to protect players from erratic dice swings.

– Rick Priestley, Grognardia

Curiously, however, Phil Gallagher has expressed his dislike of percentile mechanics.

I wasn’t a fan of percentile-based systems, and found the combat system a bit clunky for the kind of fast-paced roleplaying games I was used to.

– Phil Gallagher, Realm of Chaos 80s

It is hard to reconcile these comments conclusively. Priestley and Gallagher’s remarks perhaps suggest percentile mechanics were already in place in the second draft before the arrival of Bambra, Davis and Gallagher. Yet Davis implies the shift to percentile was made while he was working on WFRP. Perhaps the change took place between Davis’ arrival and Gallagher’s, but this places it in a very narrow window. It also does not sit well with “weeks passing” and Bambra and Gallagher focusing on “the mechanics and attributes”. It might be the case that the second draft contained percentile tests, but not percentile characteristics, possibly with test scores calculated as 10x a characteristic. If this was the case, however, the benefits of the switch to percentile attributes were minor. The precise nature of the shift is not clear to me.

Another notable change was the introduction of Fate Points.

After the first few playtests showed how deadly combat was, Jervis [Johnson] came up with the idea of fate points.

– Graeme Davis, op cit

I remember in particular that when we played as a group the more experienced role-players thought the combat system was too dangerous, which is why we came up with the idea of “fate points” to add some “ballast” into player survivability.

– Rick Priestley, Grognardia

Similar mechanics had been used in games such as Top Secret (1980), James Bond (1983), Marvel Superheroes (1984) and DC Heroes (1985).

Although the careers system had been in place for some time, there appears to have been some further development of it in this period.

Hal [Richard Halliwell] seemed to come up with two or three new careers every day, often based on people he’d seen around Nottingham: some got very silly indeed, some were no more than half-formed ideas, and we only used about half of them in the end.

– Graeme Davis, Realm of Chaos 80s

I remember writing a few careers and skills, though, to be honest, I do not remember which.

– Graeme Davis, Magia i Miecz 38 (February 1997)

There was an overhaul of the magic system, introducing mechanisms to restrict magic use, such as spell ingredients and perhaps the system of penalties for necromancers, demonologists and evil or Chaotic wizards.

I’d been putting the magic system off, because it looked complicated, so when [Jim Bambra and Phil Gallagher] showed up, they took care of that.

– Graeme Davis, Mud & Blood podcast, episode 31

The magic system, in particular, seemed to me to be much more about mass battles than for small parties of adventurers, and I worried that, in the draft we were faced with, wizards would have too much power too easily.

Jim and I focused … on … making the more powerful magics as hard for player characters to get as we could.

– Phil Gallagher, Realm of Chaos 80s

The outrageous spell ingredients came mostly from Jim and Phil. When they arrived in the Studio, the magic chapter was the big outstanding task (I’d looked at it, scratched my head, and set it aside for detailed attention after the rest of the rulebook was finished, so that the typesetters and layout artists wouldn’t be twiddling their thumbs) and Jim and Phil dove into it when they arrived. The ingredients were definitely a way to control the availability of the more powerful spells.

– Graeme Davis, Strike to Stun

Overall, the whole thing was done in rather too much of a rush, and I think it shows especially in the magic system. The numerous mentions of Realms of Sorcery really amount to an admission that we knew the magic system needed some work, but we didn’t have time to do it then, and we really intended that RoS would come out very soon after the rulebook and fix everything!

– Graeme Davis, Warpstone 5 (Spring 1997)

While Bambra and Gallagher worked on the magic system, Davis focused on expanding the brief Warhammer pantheon of the second draft. He created Esmeralda, Grungni, Liadriel, Manann, Mórr, Myrmidia, Shallya and Solkan; developed the description of Verena; added Malal and Arianka from the Kaleb Daark strip (see part XXXIV); and incorporated Jes Goodwin’s Kháine and Phil Gallagher’s Sigmar. He was also responsible for most of the writing on Druids, and for adding the system of divine favour and disfavour.

WFRP Rulebook… I was especially happy with the work I did on the ‘Religion and Belief’ chapter.

– Graeme Davis, Random Wizard

My biggest effort … went perhaps into the chapter dedicated to religion. I came up with the hierarchy of cults, blessings, etc. I wrote the majority of material regarding druids, using ideas taken from shamanic practices of Native North Americans (what I mean here are guardian spirits, of course).

– Graeme Davis, Magia i Miecz 38 (February 1997)

Manann: a conflation of Manannan and Poseidon. I made him up to fill out the ranks when I was writing the ‘Religion and Belief’ chapter.

Morr: came out of a discussion I had with Jes Goodwin over coffee one day. I can’t remember how the subject came up. I wrote him up for the rulebook, and developed some further ideas which found their way into Apocrypha 2….

Myrmidia was mine. If Ulric was a berserker god, I wanted a god of more scientific warfare, like Pallas Athena…. Creating Myrmidia inspired me to develop two semi-parallel pantheons to reflect cultural tensions in the Old World: the “town gods” or “southern gods” like Myrmidia and Verena were more classical, and the “country gods” or “northern gods” like Taal and Ulric were more Celtic-Germanic.

Shallya was just a random sound I came up with that seemed to fit the nature of the goddess. It means nothing – although Tony Ackland used to tease me about it, suggesting that Shallya should have a sister named Shantya!

Verena is mine again, modeled [sic] on Athena as the patron of wisdom and learning. I think I have a vague memory of something about her in the pre-Davis draft, perhaps under another name.

Grungni, Liadriel, and Esmeralda were all me. The original draft of WFRP included no gods for the nonhuman races, so I rushed in one of each just to show willing, and hoped to have a chance to fill out the nonhuman pantheons later: sadly, opportunities were rare.

Kháine was created by Jes when he did his big revamp of the Dark Elves in ’86. I extended his domain to include assassins of other races.

– Graeme Davis, comment on Awesome Lies

The thing, all these years later, I’m most proud of, was coming up with the idea of a hero who, in the distant past, was credited with uniting a bunch of warring tribes to found the Empire. Since that part of the Old World was kind of a parallel of the Holy Roman Empire, with a strong Germanic feel, I was originally going to call him Siegfried – after Wagner’s hero from the Ring Cycle. In the end, I think I thought the link would be too obvious, so I opted for Sigmar.

– Phil Gallagher, Realm of Chaos 80s

Sigmar was indeed created by Phil and Jim when they were developing the Empire for TEW. I believe he was modeled [sic] on the hammer-wielding character from the cover art in the 1st and 2nd edition WFB boxed sets (who up until that time had been called “Harry the Hammer” – according to Aly Morrison at least).

– Graeme Davis, comment on Awesome Lies

I put in Arianka along with Malal, trying to be complete.

Solkan was… derived from Solomon Kane. I guess I was feeling obvious that day. I was frustrated by the abstract (and, quite frankly, boring) nature of Alluminas and wanted to add at least one Law god who was more relateable [sic], and a patron of witch hunters was an obvious antagonist for the Chaos gods.

– Graeme Davis, comment on Awesome Lies

I did my best to fold everything together and develop a new draft, filling in any gaps with systems I had designed myself – like the section on divine favour and disfavour, for example.

– Graeme Davis, Realm of Chaos 80s

He also worked on the bestiary, either expanding the existing draft or creating one de novo (cf part XXXVI).

I scoured old Warhammer products and Citadel catalogues to make sure the Bestiary contained every possible monster, which is why there were strange things like the Life and Death Elementals. The Warhammer Mythos hadn’t really taken shape yet, so it was hard to say what would last and what wouldn’t.

– Graeme Davis, ibid

It was decided to set the new game’s first campaign in the Empire, so the background information on this area was enhanced.

Jim and I had already decided to develop The Empire as the setting for the campaign we wanted to publish, so I expanded the description and background of the Empire in the rulebook, and tried to sow some seeds that we could use in what became The Enemy Within.

– Phil Gallagher, op cit

I believe the appendix of building plans in WFRP1 might have been added to the book at this point. Similar plans had been characteristic of the Pelinore articles published in Imagine 16-30 (May 1984-September 1985) and GameMaster Publications 1-5 (October 1985-February 1987).

Pelinore Extract, from Imagine 18

Extract from a typical Pelinore article, from Imagine 18 (September 1984)

Although the plans in the WFRP1 rulebook were drawn by a different artist from the Pelinore ones, they reflect a similar interest in urban buildings and similar style. In fact, two of the plans are direct copies from TSR publications. The typical coaching inn is almost an exact replica of the Ford Inn in Imagine 17 (August 1984), and the typical farmstead very closely resembles the Sukiskyn map in B/X1 Night’s Dark Terror (1986).

Map of the Ford Inn from Imagine 17 (August 1984) (left) and map of a typical coaching inn from WFRP1 (right)

Map of Sukiskyn from Night’s Dark Terror (left) and map of a typical farmstead from WFRP1 (right)

These resemblances encourage me to believe they were added to the WFRP rulebook by ex-TSR writers. Paul Cockburn had been instrumental in developing Pelinore, and both Jim Bambra and Phil Gallagher worked on Night’s Dark Terror.

The new writers were not, however, able to add everything they hoped for.

I desperately wanted the rulebook to have a usable index and helpful cross-references (all my manuscripts were always littered with “(see page XX)”). However, the printing process we used in those days meant we had no way of knowing what the page count would be and what would be where, until the thing was well into production. So the index was dropped, many of the “(see page xx)” were excised, and some of those that remained never got an actual page number inserted instead of the xx!

– Phil Gallagher, Realm of Chaos 80s

In September 1986, as the rulebook was due to go into typesetting, the game was given another new name, one that this time would stick.

Strange, gibbery conversations can be heard echoing down the corridors: “Who’s got insanity?” and “Where’s the poison…”, not forgetting “AAAARRRGGHHHHHH!” WARPS is proceeding to plan, although the name has been changed to WFRP (pronounced WOOF-rup) – Warhammer Fantasy Role-Playing [sic].

‘Fracas!’, White Dwarf 81 (September 1986)

The reason for the name change has to my knowledge never been explained publicly. I believe, however, that it may have been connected with Warhammer 40,000. GW’s proposed futuristic wargame had for a long time been known as Rogue Trader, but the name was changed to WH40K to avoid confusion with GW’s licensed 2000AD board game Rogue Trooper.

By the time the game [Rogue Trader] was ready for editing in December 1986, Games Workshop had decided to produce Rogue Trooper. The ensuing confusion was incredible with people talking about Trader when they meant Trooper and Trooper when they meant Trader. Gurgling quietly often became the only option.

A new title was needed, and some bright spark (whom I shall hate for the rest of my life) came up with Warhammer 40,000.

– Rick Priestley, ‘Marginalia’, White Dwarf 94 (October 1987)

The name WH40K would not appear in print until March 1987 (in WD87), and the last reference to the game as Rogue Trader was in May 1985 (in the first Citadel Journal). Priestley implies that the change of name took place in the later part of this window, around December 1986. However, there is some evidence that perhaps suggests the change took place earlier. In June 1986 WD78 made exactly the mistake Priestley mentions, announcing the Rogue Trooper game as Rogue Trader. In the very next month WD79 reported the need to change change the WARPS name. The name Warhammer 40,000 (or perhaps an early variant) may therefore have been created at this point, necessitating a change to the role-playing game’s title so that the fantasy setting could be distinguished from the futuristic one.

WARPS/WFRP is being produced by (in their words) “the cream of the Games Workshop intelligentsia”, and only now can it be revealed that the character generation system includes over 100 skills and 100 possible careers (is this a record of some kind?); that there are eight different sorts of wizard, plus clerics, druids and runesingers who can all use different sorts of magic; that there are millions (I think they are exagerating [sic] a smidge with this bit) of new and slightly used (in Warhammer Battle) monsters; that there will be two campaigns – background packs and lots of module-sized adventures – released almost immediately, one by Paul Vernon and the other by Graeme Davis, Jim Bambra and Phil Gallagher; that the 100mph horses have been taken out of the game (boo!); and that the WARPS/WFRP book will contain ‘The Oldenhaller Contract’, a starting adventure by Richard Halliwell…

WARPS/WFRP is currently on schedule for a November 1st release date, and as this is being written it’s just starting to go to typesetting and production.

‘Fracas!’, White Dwarf 81 (September 1986)

There were, in fact, only five types of wizard; Runesingers were never included, but were described by Graeme Davis as “an Elf career I was working on – sort of an AD&D style bard with magical songs”; and Paul Vernon’s campaign never got the go-ahead. But the rest was accurate.

Between the three of us we got the thing out in time for Christmas 1986. Far from perfect, but on time.

– Graeme Davis, Mud & Blood podcast, episode 31

By November 1986 WFRP was finished and printed, and gamers finally got their hands on the long-promised rulebook.

And on that cliffhanger I am hitting the pause button again. I will resume ‘The WFRP Story’ at a later date. In the meantime I will blog here on other subjects.

APPENDIX: CHRONOLOGY

This timeline follows on from that given in part XIII, and describes the period covered by parts XXI to XXXVII.

Timeline 1984-1987

Title art by Les Edwards. Internal art by Geoff Wingate and Dave Andrews. Used without permission. No challenge intended to the rights holders.

13 thoughts on “THE WFRP STORY XXXVII: WARPS

  1. Enjoying the series! Regarding Graeme’s observation that ‘As the weeks went by [we] found that a 1-10 scale didn’t give us the resolution a roleplaying game needed so many were switched to percentile.’ During my year at GW (1987/88) the difference between tabletop gamers and roleplayers was still much in evidence and I recall commenting “Subtlety to wargamer is an extra pip on a die!”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Haha! Thanks for the comment.

      BTW I’m glad to see you’ve been writing for WFRP again. I look forward to reading your piece in the Power Behind the Throne Companion.

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    2. A 1-10 scale really is too coarse; but the percentage scale as employed by WFRP 4e using 1% increments for advancing all stats is way too fiddly. The 1-20 scale which D&D is based on nowadays has actually a good amount of granularity, even if the rest of that rules system isn’t good.

      However, as mentioned in Priestley’s quote, linear scales pose problems which are exacerbated by longer scales. To offset those, you either need to interpret a linear scale in a non-linear way (for example, by introducing success levels based on halved or quartered (etc.) stats, as CoC 7e does it; or by using a basic die roll with a curve (GURPS being an extreme example with its 3d6 roll).

      (This is why I have come to use W10-W10 as my basic die roll.)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Because, while having the same distribution, the average of D10-D10 (or B10-D10 – “bright” die minus “dark” die) is zero. Allow me to quote from an unfinished draft of my rules system:

        “CRISP Challenge aims at making its procedures – and especially its basic test – exactly as simple or detailed as the Host wants it to be in any situation. To achieve this, it allows the Host to ignore everything that she doesn’t specifically care for at the moment. Since the basic test is simply about adding up values, this means that everything average (including the result of the die roll!), typical, or unremarkable adds a value of 0, and thus can be omitted (or even outright forgotten).

        Also, it means that any value representing a character’s capability in a specific area is identical to the expected result of a test based on it, which in turn correlates with the most likely degree of success. In other words, if you have an idea how good someone usually does something under normal circumstances – for example, a weaponsmith typically creating good quality weapons – you can directly assess her associated stat total by that.”

        Since that is a little out of context, let me try to spell it out a bit more clearly: The capability of characters and the outcomes of tests are directly comparable not only in real world terms (poor, average, good etc.); but also in numbers – 0 is average both for capabilities and results; negative values are underaverage; positive values are overaverage. Not only the average human characteristic value is zero; situational modifiers in standard situations are zero as well (and not +20, as in WFRP 4e, for example). Therefore, since the average (mean, medium and mode) result of the fundamental die roll is also zero, the expected result of the die roll procedure is equal to the sum of character capability and situational modifer: If a character has +6 due to his stats when shooting a bow under typical circumstances, then his average result is +6 as well.

        So, every unremarkable stat being zero makes it particluarly easy for the Host (GM) to improvise and compare stats and modifiers, but also for players to gauge their characters’ chances of success. (There is also additional minor value in being able to refer to the results of B10 and D10 separately.)

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      2. I appreciate the answers. I web searched ‘W dice’ but got nothing. It goes to show how parochial search engines can be.

        Is it D10 minus D10 or did you mean 2D10? If the former do minus results mean anything other than being minus? (I’m using minus results in the system i’m working on.)

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