A Totally New Take on the Old World

Posted on August 15, 2009


Fantasy Flight Games have let loose something of a tempest with their announcement of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd Edition. In a nutshell, FFG are taking WFRP in an almost completely new direction, one that resembles the choices made by D&D 4th Edition in some ways.

The response was immediate and has been somewhat predictable: strong resistance to the edition shift for multiple reasons, and a rising tide of criticism of the resistance. We’ve seen this all before (the D&D 4e wars most recently) and we’ll see it all again, of course. In this particular iteration of the battle I find myself straddling the line.

(For a look at the “old-school” community reaction, check out Grognardia. Also note the reaction to the reaction.)

I’ve never been invested in WFRP, let’s make that clear right from the start. Most of my negative response comes from two areas: dislike of the premature termination of an edition in order to produce a fresh cash-cow, and the shift toward board game elements and away from a traditional RPG setup. WFRP 2nd Edition was widely hailed as an excellent refinement of the initial release with good production values and solid content. The line was progressing well, but was lacking several important books that were eagerly anticipated by the fanbase. The termination of the line leaves that material unwritten, potential unrealized.

Secondly, I have come to realize that I am a staunch traditionalist when it comes to RPGs. Character sheets, numbered dice and books, those are the tools of the trade to me. Power cards should be an optional accessory — I recognize their usefulness (Exalted sure as hell could use a nice professional Charm Card set!), but I shouldn’t have to have them if I don’t want them. Custom dice belong to games like Dragon Dice; Throwing Stones didn’t make the cut, so why try to emulate it now?

In addition to the change in tools, the style of the game itself is being manipulated. WFRP is supposed to be a dangerous and gritty game of dark fantasy, not a 4e-like stage for heroes to blaze about with nigh-impunity. I respect that, even though I’ve never played it, because these days it’s actually quite different. WFRP 3e will change all that. While this shift in tone is in line with the current trend toward epic heroics, it comes at the sacrifice of part of Warhammer’s identity.

On the other side, however, part of me likes playing games with funky dice, and these are funky enough to be novel while still resembling “real” dice. The art visible in the release is attractive (unless you dislike the over-the-top GW style), and the production values on the new edition should be high.

Also, part of the barrier between WFRP and me was the same tone I mentioned earlier. I do not like that kind of play; I don’t play Call of Cthulhu for much the same reason. I prefer being able to make a real difference if necessary, or the world not constantly being on the tipping point and held back from the Abyss only by the constant sacrifice of heroes. Being able to kick a little more butt could be a good thing.

The US $99.99 price point is painful, and I’m not sure I believe the contents of the box are quite that expensive. I certainly won’t have that much money to invest in a single RPG product any time in the near future. I would sit down and give it a try if I had the opportunity. Ultimately, I think this product would do better with its own identity instead of a new edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, but I’m not ready to sound the alarm at this early stage.

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