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3/31/2016

Role-playing Rants: coming to terms with stuff, or why I don't like Warhammer Fantasy anymore

It's true that most people grow more wise, as the time goes on. It's also true that many of us begin to realise things, which we took for granted for many years, or considered to be set in stone. I've realised one such thing yesterday and it was a rather big revelation for me. I've stopped liking Warhammer Fantasy. Like, at all.

I've spent yesterday's evening finishing my copy of Warhammer Quest for Steam. Some time ago I did a positive review of this game on my blog and yes, I still stand by my verdict... mostly. Aside from the realisation that the game is far, damn too long and that the computer can be a cheating bastard at times, I still reccomend it to any fans of Warhammer Fantasy.

Fans, to whom I do not longer belong.

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

You see, as I was finishing this game yesterday, I've begun to think on Warhammer in general. How did it came to be? What did it brought to the world of wargaming and RPG's? Why is it better (or worse) than other, similar games, available to players worldwide?

Warhammer 40,000's case is pretty easy. It's a unique, highly detailed setting with characteristic faction and strong marketing. Tons of money have been put into expanding this universe, by releasing hundreds of tie-in books, video games, comics and even a movie. Not to mention, the game itself is huge, with 7 editions and various spin-off titles, such as Epic and Necromunda. The cultural phenomenon of 40K is incredible and it can easily compete with brands such as Star Wars, when it comes to sheer size of its world, game range and fanbase.

Whereas Warhammer Fantasy is just an average fantasy world, with strong historical themes and that's it.

Yup, I've just said it. For all the nostalgia, for all the love people have for "grim world of perilous adventure", Warhammer Fantasy, as a whole, is just one, big, boring as hell, generic to the extreme, fantasy world. I'm sorry, but it is. What exactly makes it different from all other worlds, like Faerun or Mystara? Gunpowder? Some of them have it. Monsters and Daemons? Another bad example. Plenty of those in the good, ol' DnD (from which WFRP took a lot by the way). Errrr... oh, I know! It's got historical references all over it. Yes, that's true. However that's still very little, when it comes to making a fictional world more interesting and unique.

Some might argue, myself excluded, that your typical WFB/WFRP hero is not a standard, Paladin-Ho!, goody two shoes kinda person. Again, that's true. However it's hard to argue that you can play a bastard in almost every RPG, ever made. That Warhammer has a higher percentage of said bastards, does not make it unique or special in any way.

"But Xathrodox, the world is huge and is interesting and stuff!" - I can already hear people crying. Yeah, it is huge and it has a lot of detail put into it. Bear in mind tough, that almost 80 to 90% of Warhammer World has been completely ignored over the years. Aside from the Old World, there's almost nothing on places like Cathay, Ind, Kuresh, Nippon or Araby. Oh sure, there are snippets of lore here and there, but for the 30 years of its existence, the main focus of the game has been put on Empire, Bretonnia, Kislev, elven and dwarfish lands and maybe Tilea and Estalia. That's it. There were so many fantastic opportunities to explore the lands beyond, but no - let's keep it to Not-Germany only. Otherwise we'll lose more clients. Those, whom we'v elost anyway, but I digress.

Originality ho!

Now let's look at the races and whoo boy, welcome to the boring lands folks. Elves are, of course, tree huggers, always beautiful, always tall and always aloof. Dwarfs are always grumpy, beer-drinking, "shoddy human engineering lol" stereotypes. Oh and they hate Elves of course. Halflings love to eat and live in the Not-Shire. They're the comic relief guys. Orcs are green and dumb and Goblins are sneaky and cowardly, just like ewerywhere else. Necromancers have lots of skulls on them and are all gaunt and pale motherfuckers, living in crypts, alongside Vampires who've just left the pages of Bram Stoker's "Dracula". Beastmen are kinda unique... I guess. Somewhat. Then there are Daemons, who at least are made pretty well in both Warhammer settings, but then again, the whole Chaos concept was taken straight from Michael Moorcock's works, with some lovecraftian vibes added to it for flavor.

Lizardmen are cool, but the lack of attention and complete neglect that they've suffered from Games Workshop, makes them little more than automated statues, guarding some tropical shithole in Not-South America. Which could've been fleshed out more. I mean, a whole faction lives there, why they've never put more emphasis on Lustria, save that one, very well made, campaign?

Then there are humans and it's really hard to say anything about them at all. Men from the Empire hate all witches and distrust magic, but they have the Colleges of Magic in Altdorf and allow Elves to travel across their realms. So they don't hate magic that much. Kinda mixed signals there guys. Not-French live in Bretonnia, the place that GW hated the most, since they could not do anything interesting to it. I mean, how can you improve the Arthurian Legend anymore? Everything has been said and done. It's a miracle that Bretonnia got stuff like Hippogryphs. Oh, and their last army book was from 2003. That says a lot.

Kislev is a freezing shithole, full of slavic stereotypes. They like to drink vodka and almost all of them are named Ivan. I think that's all that needs to be said about them. Save for a few, unique, cavalry units, they are just Empire's shield and not much more. Another missed opportunity. If any of you would take a shot for every, poorly made decision by GW, you'd be a true Kislevite. Or dead from alcohol poisoning. Same thing really.

Chaos guys are actually quite well developed, but then again Games Workshop always loved their "evil is cool" trope, so that's not a big surprise. They're Vikings who worship Daemons. Those living further to the north have bigger horns on their helmets. That means they're more evil. I think. Anyway, instead of kislevite Slavs, the Norse are all called Gunnar, Sven or Heimdal, and are either all blondes or ginger. That's probably why nobody likes them. They rape and pillage, just like any other fantasy-themed barbarians. So original it makes my teeth ache.

There are also some undead assholes to the south, who look like ancient, mumified Egyptians. They even got less love than Bretonnians, so nobody cares about them too.

Insignificant to the extreme!

You see what I'm talking about here? Every, single one of these races and every, single one of these places are blatant copies of a real world factions/lands, with some fantasy sauce added to them for flavor. There is literally nothing original about the Warhammer World. I mean, there could've been, if only some more effort (and more risks) have been put into it.

Now let's delve a bit into the grim and perilous world of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, that wonderful game for people who think that they're playing something unique and mature. After all they have a Ratcatcher in the party, and he has a small but vicious dog with him. There's of course the elven Ranger and his all mysterious and shit. The Mage is sitting over there, reading a fucking magic book and the Warrior is sharpening his sword or cleaning his pistols (we have gunpowder here, we're unique!). There's also a Dwarf who probably drinks beer, since Dwarves love beer. They also hate Elves, but I think that I've already mentioned it.

Actually they hate a lot of things, Elves just being among those that the Dwarfs hate the most

They've all met in a tavern, of course. That's where they've got their first quest, to find the barkeep's daughter who's been kidnapped by nin... er, sorry, by Goblins/Orcs/Beastmen or, if the adventure is really cleverly written, Bandits. Most of them are not, tough, so I'd wager it's the Greenskins. They all yell WAAAGH! Every one of them, even the smaller ones. Later the party will discover the Skaven, a faction which I've kinda forgotten about. They're actually really cool. They're like rat-themed Beastmen, only more clever. Despite the fact the Empire fought with them a million times, no one knows about them. Oh, sorry. I've meant to say that everyone knows about them, they're just not talking because reasons.

Very, very poorly explained reasons.

Anyway, once the party will leave the endless forests (all the same!) and villgaes (always attacked by Beastmen!), they'll eventually reach one of the big cities of the Empire. Honestly, I don't expect that most of WFRP's games take place anywhere else, so I'll stick with the Empire, thank you very much. Once they get into the city, it's time for them to meet the plethora of interesting people, like:

A) The always corrupt city guardsmen.

B) Butchers, who are almost universally nurglite cultists.

C) Young, decadent noblemen who love to serve Slaanesh. Like, all of them.

D) Anyone with a book and a scholarly career, who's not in your party, is probably Tzeentch's bitch.

E) Angry folks who tend to serve Khorne.

Above examples are actually 100% true. In my long and illustrious career as an RPG nerd, I've never stumbled upon a campaign or an adventure for WFRP, where the Butcher would not be a cultist of Nurgle, or where a young, handsome and arrogant Noble, would not be serving Slaanesh. From "The Thousand Thrones" to the legendary (for all the wrong reasons, it's actually a pretty medicore campaign) "The Enemy Within", the routine is always the same. Even a semi-intelligent player will soon learn, not to trust a guy who's selling him meat.

Your typical meat seller from the Old World

There are, of course, more examples. Like the sewers - you bet your ass that there'll be Skaven in them, just waiting to suffocate your hapless party with their wet, furry bodies. Oh and guess who'll be giving you quests? In 9 out of 10 situations it will be some corrupt noble, trying to get something of his, back from some other, corrupt noble. The party will probably learn about the quest in a tavern.

I really could go on and on and on, giving more, sad examples of this world's lack of originality, but I'm not going to. Instead I'll say this: by no means do I consider Warhammer Fantasy to be a bad setting. I know that many of you could get such an idea, from reading this article. I firmly believe that WFB and WFRP are perfect games for people, who take their first steps into wargaming or RPG worlds. They're like tutorial levels for all the new folks out there, wishing to roll some dice. However, after the initial joy and wonder at this "grim and dark" fantasy world wears off, its users will be left with a feeling that what they're playing is incedibly shallow, boring and repetitive, especially in the case of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. I don't think that even the most die-hard fans could argue that this setting is anything, but stale and repetitive. In the past I've even stumbled upon opinions, proclaming that Warhammer was a "canon for fantasy".

Don't make me laugh. WFB and WFRP would not even take the third place on the "Fantasy canon" plinth. They're both standard, competently made, uninspiring games, good for beginners and newbies. Nothing more, nothing less. I do have a lot of good memories with them, but again, yesterday I understood that these memories are not about the games themselves. They were about certain situations during sessions, certain people. When it comes to other games that I like, mainly from the cWoD range, I could recite a dozen, cool stories from my sessions on the fly. When it comes to WFRP I don't really remember a single one. That's just how bland it is.

Almost as bland, as these "your typical fantasy Goblins" types. Almost

For the last couple of years I've been collecting various books for 1st and 2nd edition of WFRP, but lately, whenever the postman would brought me a new one, I didn't even opened it. It went straight to my shelf to collect dust. I have most of the "Enemy Within" campaign titles, but I know that I will never run it. Mainly from the fear of finding out, just how many, poorly written enemies my PC's would have to face. I played "EW" myself, but it was almost a decade ago, back when I was returning to the world of RPG's myself and so I thought that this game was the best thing ever. How wrong I was back then. Only now do I see that the Warhammer's unchaging formula, its archaic style of world building and presentation, were among the biggest of its downfalls. I have a lot of issues with 40K, but at least it's original and constantly evolving, despite the fact that it's a setting, not a story. Warhammer Fantasy was evolving for a short time, with no positive effects, and finally it had paid a price for that. The highest, possible price. That, and trying to be too hard to be like its younger sibling. Applying the WH40K's style to Fantasy was the final blow that broke its back in six, different places.

Some people say that the Age of Sigmar killed Warhammer Fantasy. I don't think so. It was dead, long before the AoS took its undead, twitching corpse behind a barn and put two bullets in the back of its rotting skull, then left it there to stink up the place. Grim and perilous indeed.

Until next time!

Xathrodox86

P.S. If I'll ever hear or read the words: "you've all met in a tavern", I'm going to defenestrate someone, I swear to god.

P.S.S. Yes, I'm still getting "TW: Warhammer", even tough it will probably not be a very good game. Old habits die hard, I guess.

3/17/2016

Xathrodox86 reviews: "Predator, Prey" by Rob Sanders

I'm not gonna lie - I have a big faith in the new Black Library series, "The Beast Arises". First part was decent enough and showed what the Imperium looked like, a mere thousand years after the Horus Heresy. But what about its next installments? Are they just as good?

I don't know anything about Gav Thorpe's "The Emperor Expects", except for the thing that the title is pretty rad, but fortunately I did finished "Predator, Prey" by Rob Sanders. Now, I always considered Sanders to be kind of a mixed bag when it comes to Black Library writers. On one hand his AdMech fiction is extremely boring, at least to me. Too long, too overblown and too stale. On the other, he penned "The Serpent Beneath", a truly fantastic Alpha Legion story, in which the XXth are shown as competent and secretive, but not in the "we can do anything because we can do anything" sort of way, like most BL authors tend to portray them. He's also responsible for the "Redemption Corps", a book which no fan of the Imperial Guard in general, and Storm Troopers in particular, should miss. All in all, the dude had a rather good writing streak, so far. Will the second part of "The Beast Arises" be able to change that?

These covers are just getting better and better!

Absolutely not. In fact "Predator, Prey" is much better than the first entry in this series.

The novel starts with Lux Allegra, an ex-pirate now turned imperial commnader, on the world of Undine, rallying her troops against the greenskin onslaught. Undine is a planet covered with oceans, with a strong maritime feel to it. Allegra herself is a well built character, whose previous life as a pirate still surfaces from time to time during the intense action against Orks, and who is often considered a low-born scum by her superiors. Her initial mission, escorting the planetary governor off world, goes tits up, when the Orks get their groove on and absolutely curb stomp the imperial defenders. After that, her commanders give Allegra a new task - find the missing cache of exterminatus-grade weaponry from the times of Horus Heresy, and use it against the invaders in an act of suicidal spite...

Allegra was intended by Sanders to be the most human of all the heroes and this works really well. Not only is she an ordinary soldier, she's also pregnant and readers are presented with her doubts, about the future of her world and the unborn baby that she's carrying inside her. What I liked about her the most, was the very down to earth approach with her character. She's no super woman that defeats the Orks with one hand tied behind her back. Instead Allegra is simply trying to stay alive, fighting both for herself and her unborn child.

Next we have Captain Maximus Thane of the Fists Exemplar Chapter, who is fending off the Greenskin attack on his homeworld. Soon circumstances force him to become the de facto leader of the whole Chapter, as all other senior officers are killed by vile Xenos. Where Allegra's plot is about staying alive on a world full of alien invaders, while trying to reach a certain destination, Thane's parts are full of epic combat scenes, heroic last stands and punching Bolter sickle mags into Orks brains (I'm not kidding, he does that). The Fists Exemplar are not the only Sons of Dorn in this book tough, as we're also introduced to a handful of Black Templars, organising a Crusade against the Ork Attack Moon. Without spoiling a lot, I'll just add that it goes very, very wrong, but thanks to those circumstances, we are treated to some of the most interestingly written BT's, this side of Aaron Dembski-Bowden's "Helsreach".

There's also Tech Magos Urquidex, who's taking part in the Adeptus Mechanicus quest to understand the secrets of Greenskin's gravitic technology, while also staying as much from the fighting as possible. Urquidex is another great character, and proof that Sanders can really write, as he's a Tech-Magos with a consience. He feels ashamed of his order's decisions to distant themselves from the struggle against the Xenos and he often makes it known to his superiors. Reading about a Tech Magii who isn't all "beep-boop, glory to the Omnisiah" is very refreshing and I wish that more BL's authors would take this kind of approach with the servants of Mars.

The Adeptus Mechanicus cold and inhuman logic really shows, just how little do they care about the wider Imperium. Terra can burn for all they care and as long, as knowledge is preserved, the machine cult is satisfied. "Predator, Prey" really presented the side of the AdMech, that most of us never fully saw.

Finally there's this Blogger's favorite anti-villian, Drakan Vangorich. The Grandmaster of the Officio Assassinorum is taking things into his hands even further, as he's starting to run kill simulations against members of Senatorum Imperialis, the other High Lords of Terra. Vangorich is the only one who seems to understand how big of a threat, the Greenskins present to the Imperium, and tries to convince his fellow High Lords of organising a solid and impregnable defence against the invaders. Sadly, most of them are too busy playing politics and vying for personal favors to take him (and the Orks) seriously. Even the Inquisition is not that much concerned about the threat, posed by "The Beast". Their inaction, petty powerplays and lack of leadership can be felt in every sentence, written by Sanders, and I've soon found myself wishing for ol' Drakan to start popping fools, left, right and centre. Fortunately Vangorich and his right hand man, Beast Krule, are preparing to do just that and soon...

Finally there are the Orks themselves. While "The Beast" did not made an appearance just yet, his soldiers are presented as genuine, horryfing threat. Long being considered culled by the Imperium, the Greenskins have bided their time, and when they attack, they absolutely decimate the hapless servants of the Throne. Their Attack Moon is able to destroy whole fleets without much fuss, but once again Sanders reminds his readers, that their greatest advantage lies in the ineptitude and petty politics of Imperium's ruling council. If only the High Lords of Terra would get of their asses and do something about "The Beast", the Xenos menace could be stopped right after the disaster at Ardamantua.

"Oi! Wez cannot be stopped, ya stupid Git!"

Speaking of which, a certain Imperial Fist, thought lost on that planet, is still alive and kicking...

I honestly had a lot of fun when listening to "Predator, Prey". Solid action, memorable characters and a genuine, Xenos threat, all make a great story and one that is more than enough, to keep me wanting for more from this series. While "The Beast Arises" may not be as epic, as the Horus Heresy, it's shaping up to be a very solid position, available from the Black Library. I can't wait to get my hands on "The Emperor Expects". I hope it will be just as good, as this title.

Pros:

-Tight, fast paced action.
-Memorable, complex characters.
-Excellent presentation of Imperium's inner politics.
-Orks being a real, genuine threat.

Cons:

-Skipping from one plot section to another can be a tad confusing.
-Depressing at some points. Seriously, this book is grim AND dark.

Until next time!

Xathrodox86