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What is Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (WFRP)?

History of WFRP

What is a Roleplaying Game?

Roleplaying Games (RPGs) are played at a table like any board game, but most of the information is conveyed verbally, rather than visually. One of the players, usually the one most familiar with the rules, assumes the responsibility of Game Master (GM), and describes the various enemies, allies and locations that make up the adventure. The other players each have a character sheet listing the strength, intelligence, and other attributes of their Player Character (PC) on a numeric scale. Players respond to challenges posed by the GM by first deciding how their PC will cope, and then rolling dice if necessary, to determine whether they succeed.

RPGs are cooperative activities in every sense. The players work together to destroy evil cults, vanquish bands of goblins, or simply eke out a living in a grim, unforgiving fantasy world. The players do not compete against the GM per se, although games may be more exciting when the GM remains impartial. Ideally, the GM provides players with tools to bring their characters to life, while maintaining the impression that their actions, not his own whims, will determine whether they succeed or fail.

What is Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay?

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (WFRP) is a pen-and-paper roleplaying game where players take on the roles of adventurers seeking wealth, glory, or simply survival in the Old World; a gritty fantasy setting analogous to Europe in the Late Medieval or Early Renaissance period (16th to 17th century AD).

The people of the Old World struggle to defend their civilization from Orcs, Goblins and Rat Men (Skaven), but perhaps the greatest threat comes from the forces of Chaos. While hordes of rampaging beastmen and warriors pour south from the northern wastes, agents of Chaos also thrive undetected within the cities and forests of the Empire, spreading like a cancer just below the surface.

One distinctive aspect of WFRP is the career system. Characters start with careers like Peasant or Watchman; the vocation by which they earned their livelihoods before adventure beckoned. As the story progresses and characters gain experience, they may switch into advanced careers like Merchant or Champion to reflect their elevated status and capability. Individual career changes are meant to be interwoven with the ongoing storyline.

Magic is dangerous and unpredictable in WFRP. Often the cause of corruption, magic is strictly regulated by the Empire, which keeps a careful watch over its licensed wizards to ensure they don't slide down the path to Necromancy or Demonology. Characters rarely acquire magical items, being forced to make do with only simple tools and innate skill. Those who dabble in sorcery must be wary of witch hunters and religious zealots who seek to have them burned at the stake.

Yes, life is harsh for an adventurer in WFRP, and those who set out in search of glory are fortunate to return home with their limbs and sanity intact. However, adversity never dissuades them from trying; in fact it only makes the victories taste even sweeter.

The History of WFRP

In 1986, the UK-based Games Workshop released WFRP as an extension of its popular tabletop miniatures game, Warhammer Fantasy Battles. In 1989 it was handed off to subsidiary company Flame Publications so that Games Workshop could focus on its more lucrative titles. In 1991, after a short, but prolific printing run, Flame Publications folded and WFRP was left for dead.

In 1995, Hogshead Publishing obtained the license to resurrect WFRP. Hogshead re-released some classic GW titles and also developed a number of original books for the game. In 2002, the owner stepped down and Hogshead restructured, causing the WFRP license to once again drift into limbo.

The game was given new life when Black Industries, the fiction-publishing subsidiary of Games Workshop, announced in 2004 that it would develop a brand new edition of the rules. They knew that revising nearly two decades worth of game material would be a dificult task, and enlisted the aid of Green Ronin, a well-respected publisher of D20-system products.

One of the major challenges in developing a new WFRP edition would be updating the setting and game mechanics without losing the unique flavour that had made WFRP so popular, meanwhile appealing to a whole new generation of Games Workshop players. To that end, they recruited hundreds of fans from all over the world, and embarked on one of the most ambitious playtesting endeavours in RPG history. The result: in the spring of 2005, WFRP was born again with legions of fans anxious to see what supplements would follow. And the supplements came. In under three years, Black Industries and Green Ronin released no less than twenty-two products for WFRP v2.

But alas, drama struck again in January 2008 when Games Workshop announced that Black Industries would no longer publish WFRP once the current production slate was complete. This announcement came within days of the new 40K RPG, Dark Heresy, selling out in record time. Fans were left to wonder if Games Workshop would ever publish roleplaying games again.

But only weeks later, the prolific Minneapolis-based company Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) announced their acquisition of both the WFRP and Dark Heresy licenses, along with the rights to other Games Workshop properties. FFG purchased Black Industries' remaining stock for distribution, and assured the fanbase that new WFRP products would be scheduled as soon as their development team was in place.

And so, in Spring 2008, WFRP entered a new era with its fifth publisher. FFG released two original books for WFRP 2nd edition before announcing that a 3rd edition of the game would be released in late 2009. Third edition WFRP would use a revolutionary die mechanic and many of the rules would be printed on cards. In the first year of its release, WFRP 3rd edition was supported with several high-quality boxed supplements and attracted a strong fanbase.

At the end of 2010, WFRP 2nd edition (Black Industries/Green Ronin) and 3rd edition (Fantasy Flight Games) both remain popular among WFRP fans. Even Games Workshop's 1st edition retains a small but loyal following.