The table top franchise of Warhammer has been a household name among board game players for years, ranging from the Grimdark future of the Warhammer 40k universe featuring iconic creatures such as the Emperors chosen Space Marines, hulking behemoths that roam the galaxy along with the always comical Orks to the more gothic inspired medieval setting. Games Workshop have travelled every corner of the gaming sphere, ranging from digital to table top across many a year and recently into streaming services such as WarhammerTV featuring a comprehensive list of novels, codex rulebooks, animated shorts and many more. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4th Edition is the latest instalment in the now 36 year old series, dropping to stores in 2018 with a refined set of rules and plenty of new lore.
A Brutal Journey
One aspect that stands out for Warhammer Fantasy is the setting, the Old World is a brutal unforgiving landscape ripe with roaming brigands, bloodthirsty demons and wildlife that can rip a man in half and the system makes a full effort to show this off.
Characters often can take rather serious wounds ranging from head trauma to loss of limbs if you’re not careful during clashes. Diseases are ripe in Reikland and can be contracted by characters without suitable holy protection and clothing. Compared to other popular systems in the TTRPG world such as Cyberpunk or DnD 5e the game prefers a much more grounded take on the adventuring lifestyle and never pulls its punches on your group
The game uses a D100 system or more commonly referred to as a percentile game. Characters have a wide range of stats that are purchased in points, then must make a D100 roll or use two D10’s to make a check, if the characters roll below the number it counts as a successful roll with every 10 below being even better.
However the system works both ways with every 10 over resulting in some rather catastrophic results, for example if a character wished to ride a horse well they would have to make an animal care check, ranging from riding off into the sunset to catching a leg in a stirrup as it drags you down the road.
It’s Honest Work
One feature that really stands out in Warhammer Fantasy is the career system, adventuring can be tiresome work and not every scrappy mercenary can roam the lands nonstop. This is where the career system comes into play, after picking a race and rolling your stats your character can pick a starting career from one of 8 pathways, each one granting different bonuses. For example a physician might aim to pick vital points to strike on an enemies body and call out to their companions while an artisan may spend some group downtime to fashion silver weapons for his allies.
With multiple combinations the system adds layer upon layer of depth to the game and grants a very rewarding feeling to the players as they watch a group of nobodies from vastly different lifestyles grow into professionals of their trade.
Not Just A Monstrous Face
You will find over 350 pages of dense lore, for not only character classes and the Warhammer Fantasy Mythos, but In-depth descriptions of over 50 monsters with fully detailed artwork, lore and gameplay stats each enemy feeling completely unique. While goblins and orks are both apart of the Greenskin faction each one oozes personality for completely different reasons, an Ork may wield large weapons of war on the backs of great wolves while goblins prefer to stalk through the shadows, clambering up surfaces and bouncing towards enemies on their “squigs”, adorably terrifying balls of red with stumpy legs that act as a completely separate threat from the owner.
The game also does not shy away from leaning into the more eldritch aspect of horror with large cut organisations aiming to resurrect ancient powers and providing plenty of opportunity to weave a narrative without ever even implying.
While the game takes priority in challenging the players it more than anything wants to establish atmosphere. From the warm coaching inns full of expressive faces with fantastical tales to tell to Altdorf, the bustling capital of trade and commerce with stall vendors beckoning travellers to purchase small trinkets and warm foods throughout the day. It wants you to while feeling reserved and playing smart, to have the ability to live and breathe the Old World in your own uniquely crafted way. And that is why it remains as one of my favourite TTRPG’s on the market.
A Notch On The Record
While the game holds a lot of replayablity and narrative choice, it still falls flat in certain aspects, not everything can be perfect as is well known. Firstly the game is rather limited In its race options, you have the standard classical humans, elves, dwarves and halflings but other than these hallmarks of fantasy media there aren’t any other options, this may make people transitioning from other systems such as Starfinder or Dungeons and Dragons (as I was myself) feel underwhelmed by the lack of choice.
The game can also feel rather gritty at times, rarely taking it’s foot off the gas in terms of danger which is rather stressful, especially for those who just wish to have fun with a new game to play with friends and weren’t expecting the challenge.
Ultimately if you are a fan of more hard-core fantasy, such as Dark Souls or the brutal political schemes in Game of Thrones, Warhammer Fantasy is an instant pickup I would recommend. The game does not shower players with supernatural abilities and extreme levels of resilience, rather asking for them to push back and defy the odds for immensely satisfying story beats and rewarding gameplay.