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6/23/2017

Role-playing Rants: was Warhammer Fantasy "too dark" for its own good?

Most of the old and middlehammerers know the evolution of Warhammer Fantasy. From the grim and down-to-earth, but also absurd fantasy game, it evolved into... Yeah, into what exactly?

I won't pretend to be one of the "old guard". Sure, in my youth I used to play WFRP 1st edition from time tom time. It was an extremly popular game in Poland, still is really. However these first forays into the Old World are shrouded in the mist of childhood and obscurity. I don't remember too much about these games, except for the fact that I've once played a Zoat. Good times.

Anyway, I had a chance to re-read the 1st edition rulebook, some time ago. Aside from a nostalgia trip, I've noticed how different the arts were, from the latter incarnations of this game system. Skulls were few and in between. People were actually smiling, while those in the 2nd edition books look, like they have a constant constipation. The atmosphere was just... fantastic. In that it resembled a typical fantasy world, but with a historical twist. Meanwhile, the 2nd edition arts are...

Ahhhhh!!!
Yeah, they are almost all like that. Don't get me wrong, I love the 2nd edition of Warhammer Fantasy, but to be honest, very few artworks really work for me in this game. While some of them are taken straight from WFB's army books, mainly those of 6th editon Fantasy Battle, whith which WFRP 2nd shares a bond, the new arts are just... goofy. Goofy and really boring. There are skulls everywhere. Literally - on the buildings, on the clothing, on weapons. Hell, there are probably skulls within skulls with skulls on them. You think that I'm joking? No way.

Both the WFB 6th and WFRP 2nd were trying too hard to become like 40K, which started to eclipse its older brother at the time of their popularity. In 40K there are skulls and cherubs and weird shit everywhere, but that is something to be expected of that setting. Cathedrals in space? Sure, why not? Now imagine if in Warhammer Fantasy there'd be galleons with cathedrals on them. That would just be silly now, wouldn't it? Still, Games Workshop might not have put churches on ships, but they tried. Oh, how they've tried to do things like that...

Actually both the WFB 6th and WFRP 2nd editions recieved quite a mild treatment in the whole
"grimdark wannabe" process. Sure the omnipresent skulls were kinda annoying and character's faces were looking kinda silly, as well as the decrepit look of almost every building and dress in the Empire, but here and there one could still see the old Warhammer look, the down-to-earth fantasy game, without any pretence and with just the right ammount of dark humor.

Then the 8th edition of Warhammer Fantasy Battle came. Oh sweet Sigmar...

Where do I start? How about here?

is he riding through the Warp?
Or here?

Meanwhile in World of Warcraft...
Or maybe here?

"One cannot fire rockets, when the floor is chaos" - ancient sigmarite proverb
This is not gritty. This is not dark nor is it grim. This simply looks dumb and not "so bad that it's actually fun" kinda dumb. It looks dumb. It looks as if a 6-year old, who just read his first, "serious book", decided to sculpt a wargame terrain piece. There is nothing funny about it, there is nothing intimidating or scary about it. It looks like a shitty, cheap-ass toy and the worst part is that all of the 8th edition looked like that. Fake as hell, trying too hard to imitate 40K, a completly different game with a different atmosphere and style. Give me a break.

When the WFRP 3rd edition came to stores, it generally carried on the style of the wargame on its pages. While the artwork was nice and of a much higher quality, then in the previous two iterations of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, it also lacked... something. Perhaps it was the continous absence of smiles on character's faces, or the ever present doom and gloom, presented on every art piece, I don't know. Certainly the portrayal of the Old World by FFG didn't managed to help in halting the decline of interest of its fans, and in bringing new, fresh blood into the fandom. I recall a story from the 3rd edition about a village struck by a nurglite sickness which forced them to dance until death claimed their exhausted bodies. Sisters of Shallya came to help the poor people, by enacting a powerful ritual that cleansed them from the plague. Their joy from helping others soon vanished, as an Empire army, led by a zealous Warrior Priest, arrived and decimated the village, killing every one of its inhabitants. Grim and dark, right? No, not really - just very poorly written. There were more stories like this one, presented on the pages of many of 3rd editions sourcebooks and adventures, poorly imitating Dark Heresy's and other 40K RPG's style. None of it really worked, none was at the literary level of Dan Abnett's introductory short piece in WFRP 2nd Edition's rulebook, which was dark, gritty but also believable and excellently written. Shame, really.

Back when we could feast our eyes on awesome art pieces, like this one...
I know that I've written about it already, but I'm going to say it one more time - at one point, both the Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, have lost their identities. They've tried to mimick or imitate, however you want to call it, a vastly different game, with a very unique style and presentation - the Warhammer 40,000. They've failed spectaculary and now, aside from a few, successful video game adaptations, they're dead. Age of Sigmar has replaced them and while it is still struggling with its own style and sense of identity, it is getting somewhere. I might not like the game, but I do have to acknowledge that it is changing and evolving, while also not falling blindly into the "ctrl+c, ctrl+v" territory, that old Warhammer Fantasy games did. Very soon we'll get our hands on the 4th edition of WFRP. I just hope that Cubicle 7 won't make the same mistakes, as their predecessors, for all of our sakes. It would be tragic, to see a potential rebirth of Warhammer Fantasy and the rekindling of old flames of passion, die before they'll even get a chance to spread throughout the RPG fandom.

Until next time!

Xathrodox86

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