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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 It's got historical references all over it.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.

22 comments:

  1. Is this the end of your WFRP blog?
    Will you quit Strike-to-stun? ... :(

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  2. Not in the slightest. I plan to continue and expand this blog and write about different aspects of RPG's and tabletop games, including Warhammer Fantast Battle and Roleplay. I just wanted to "let of some steam" and talk openly about my feelings about these games. They're not bad. They're just not... ver good, that's all./ ;)

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  3. Warhammer Fantasy definitely felt like a middleweight boxer that somehow got stuck with the heavies. No way was it going to slug it out with it's colleagues as is. Yet it appears it was expected to do just that right up until the euthanasia at the end.

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    1. I know, right? He was this boxer who always used the same style, on and on and on. Meanwhile his opponents were evolving, learning new tricks. Soon he was so far behind them, that the only option was a hardcore steroid abuse and an inevitable heart attack.

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  4. Soooo... If you're not interested in WFRP anymore, maybe you want to sell some of your RPG stuff? Are you willing to get rid of some of them?

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    1. Thanks for the proposition, but I do not. These books have strong, personal value to me. There's a lot of memories associated with them and selling them, even one of them, would be a hard thing for me.

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  5. The great thing about Warhammer isn't the originality of the elements. It's the way those fantasy staples are combined to create an awesome, iconic setting.

    If I want to play in a "standard" fantasy setting, one with dwarves, orcs and wizards, the Old World is where it's at. It's a far more vital, believable place than the Forgotten Realms, Eberron or Mystara.

    IMO "the Old World" is the greatest D&D setting ever published.

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    1. I agree that the Warhammer World was more "down to earth" kinda setting, than any of the DnD worlds. However that did not gave it any sort of a free pass for remaining unchanging over all these years. Not to mention the fact, that underneath all the grime and dark atmosphere, it was a fairly ordinary fantasy setting, with nothing truly special and unique. That's why it ended stone dead, unfortunately.

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  6. (Forgive my brevity here but I'm writing on a phone which is fiddly.) WFB and WFRP might well be 'beginner games' but that does not mean players have to move on to another system in order to progress and develop as players and GMs, they could stick with the system but take it with them to new levels. New complexities, new interpretations of the Warhammer would. But I think you know this, and you were commenting on the official fluff and the games as published - this how most folk play them.

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    1. I agree completely. However, this solution dosen't really mean that the game is good or bad, because you can apply it to any RPG/Tabletop game. After all, the imagination is the only thing that can limit us. Even a horrible game can become great, if you apply imagination to it. Some games even encourage this - the classic World of Darkness line for example. Meanwhile WFRP repeated the same tropes over and over again, without really changing them. That was its main problem, or at least one of them.

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  7. Its was always a vehicle for Brits to make bad puns and jokes at the expense of the French, German etc. But its irreverent humour and 'everymans' fantasy was also its draw. It made gaming with a European historical bent unintimidating while making the fantasy elements very approachable.

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    1. Something for something I guess. That's true and unfortunately it was one of the main reasons why the game tanked. Still, it had a decent run and I'm trying to remember the good times.

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  8. Well. I have dusted off my books (2 edition) again after 8 years of "long holiday"... and the workld really works for me, perhaps because i both read german and english, and because the players and me tend to gravitate towards "the thin line of humanity against total chaos" style of storytelling

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    1. A break is always a good thing, when you're feeling tired with your favorite source material. I think that after a short hiatus, we can always appreciate new things with our favorite games. I certainly began looking at WFRP in a different way, after taking a long break from it. On one hand the things that irk me are still there, but on the other I've realised that nothing is perfect, and that even irritable things can be charming in their own, weird way.

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  9. Hi, I was interested to read this. As a WFRP fan I disagree (you'do know me better on StS as Aldred Fellblade) but I'd be interested to hear you expand on your thinking here. To my mind there isn'the a better classic fantasy setting than the OW and that is actually it's strength so I've never had any interest in it changing.
    Nonetheless I'd be curious to know what sort of things you'd have liked to see and what you think the competition is doing better.

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    1. Hi Percy/Aldred! Fancy seeing you here. :)

      Well as you've probably read in my later posts, I've sorta came to terms with my ambigous feelings towards the good, ol' WFRP. Essentialy... they remain the same, as I've described them in this article. However I did understood that, despite its many flaws and bad sides, WFRP still feels like the most comfortable system for me to play. It just clicks. Sure, it's more than a bit rough over the edges, and there are many things that are just bad, but I don't care - I still like running it and playing with it.

      I will make another post, which will be a continuation of sorts for this one, in which I will explain my feelings in a bit more detail. However to answer your immediate questions:

      - I would like to see more detailed world i.e. more than just the Old World. There was so much potential in Araby, Ind, Kuresh, Cathay and Nippon, but, sadly, WFRP was too "western-centric" so we've never got anything big, regarding those lands.

      - I would like to see a proper, officail and full-on sourcebook for Elves. There are many great fan-made books, but it's a shame that the authors never done something like that themselves.

      - Same with Dwarfs. Sure, "Dwarfs: S&S" is great, but it was made for the 1st edition WFRP.

      - More campaigns, other than "that and that Chaos cult wants to destroy Altdorf. You'll have to stop it!" Why not making an adventure campaign, where the destination would be Albion or Lustria? Or Sartosa?

      There are many more things that I could list, but I'll leave that for another post. ;)

      Take care Aldred

      Xathrodox86

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  10. The only thing worse than Generic Fantasy cribbed from fantasy novels and history is disposing of that and generating something even more generic and unoriginal like Age of Sigmar.

    Everything has wings? And are immortals with no faces fighting for....er derp? Don't give up your day job. Go back to cribbing, GW, it's all you're good at.

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    1. It's true. WFB may have been pretty generic, when it came to portraying your typical fantasy, but compared to AoS it truly was a lesser evil.

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  11. listen my man, i like the setting and fluff of the The Old World, as most of the human factions seem humble in comparison to say...Sigmarines, as i felt that the planet of WHF was interesting as it was a world with many, MANY races that have different ideologies and cultures, which make the human factions more brave as they fight with their humble tech, sword and magic, it feel like stories bout your average joe against all kinds of dangerous inhuman threats (and the occasional very human threats). the warriors of chaos are also the greatest faction with many interesting characters, that many would say are generic in their lack of personality but i like their aesthetics and consistent characterization, with their vast quantity of badass heroes (until Archaon, which is a badly written mary sue), the lizardmen are also cool with their aesthetics and ancient history, in conclusion you say they seem generic in many ways, but i consider that they wrote their fluff to make the setting more vibrant and alive than their now warcraft/warhammer 40k/cosmic high fantasy crap.

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    1. I agree with you about the ordinary people, living in the Old World. That was certainly a very cool, very unique way of handling things in a fantasy world, compared to, let's say, DnD. Especially when you take into account the dangers, that an ordinary soldier of the Empire must face. Greenskins, Chaos Warriors, Skaven - the list is long and terrifying. It was much more down to earth, than 40K, not to mention the Age of Sigmar.

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    2. but i mean, i like Chaos, Empire, Orcs and Lizardmen (marginally with Bretonnia) and i like all their aesthetics even if they are inspired in RL history, (in fact that makes it better to my liking) i mean, is that alright? do you like the Old World factions in some way? (talking about lore & aesthetics here)

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    3. What is alright, is up to you to decide. If it brings you joy and happiness, then it all that matters. :)
      As for me - I do like a lot of factions in the Warhammer World, even if they're not particulary original. But that's what is cool about Warhammer - even if something is not original, it can still be a lot of fun. It's like comfort food - you know its taste, smell and consistency so good, that you don't even need to eat it to enjoy it, yet you do and every time you are having a good time. That's exactly how I feel about this world.
      I do love the Empire (actually have a substantial army of Sigmar's sons and daughters), but also dig Lizardmen a lot, for thei sheer badassery. Dawi Zharr, the Chaos Dwarves, are my long time favorites and I absolutely adore Kislev, for that nice, Eastern Europe flavor. ;)

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Thank you for the comments. :)