Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay – The Rulebooks

Unboxed is now on Twitter. This week we passed the magical 900 per month barrier and the visitors are still rising, so I thought it was about time I looked at the Twitter. Every time I post something major on the blog I will tweet about it, but I will also throw up random tid-bits of news as I find them.

If you haven’t checked it out yet, Brad Cummings caught up with Mayday Games just before they set off for GenCon, check out his interview with Seth here. Together the two of them discuss many up coming products including the new Crokinole Board and a new deluxe version of the deluxe Argicola meeple set.

Ok then, WFRP 3, in this segment I’m only really going to talk about the Core Rules and the Tome of Adventure (GM’s Guide), I will cover Magic and Religion in another segment.

The Core Rules

Right, lets get this out of the way right now, I found the Core Rules book to be rather unnecessary for the most part. I read every post Jay wrote and watched all the videos and by the end of that there was little in the core rules that I didn’t already know. To me that is mark of FFG’s quality because their website is really that informative. I felt like I could have sat down with the core set and run a basic encounter without ever opening the rulebook.

But… there are some things in there you need to know. The book contains everything you need to know about how to build a character, this is handled over the first four chapters. Chapter 5 explains the single mechanic that drives the system, that’s right, one mechanic drives the whole damn thing. Chapters 6 through 8 handle the fiddly bits like actions, combat and conditions. Finally chapters 9 through 10 handle equipment and fluff.

Laying out a roleplay book is always difficult. The first several chapters always deal with character creation, but at this point you have no idea what effect any the choices have. But, I think, WFRP 3 does a good job of guiding you through the process with enough examples and explanation for you to see what is going on.

And when I talk about examples, I mean EXAMPLES! These are full page spreads with pictures of components with everything explained in English, rather than gamer speak. These really are great books for teaching you the game…

They are not that great at content however. When you buy a D&D book there are a billion rules and options and equipment lists up the wahzoo. Not with WFRP. There is a single mechanic that handles everything, the dice pool.

A lot of space in the books goes into explaining the genius of the mechanic and how it all works with all the components, but this is not like your regular Player’s Handbook, but then, this is not your ordinary roleplaying game either.

So, let’s talk about the Dice Pool. Each time you attempt anything, be it leaping onto a tavern table or leaping across a fiery chasm, you perform the same steps. You take blue dice equal to the relevant stat, in this case Strength. Depending on your stance (Conservative or Reckless) you will convert some of these to Green or Red dice. You would then add a yellow dice for each skill point invested in a relevant skill, for example Athletics. You could add a further white die for specialising in jumping.

To this pool of dice the GM will add purple dice based on the inherent difficult of the task. He can then add black dice to represent adverse conditions. For example the chasm might be a hard challenge (3 purple dice) under normal conditions, but this one is on fire (one black dice) and there are Orcs shooting at you (one black dice) and you just lost the girl you love (two more black dice). He can also add extra white dice to the pool to represent good fortune, reward great roleplaying or the player himself can add them by spending fortune points.

Now that the pool is assembled the whole thing is rolled and the outcome is determined. Success symbols are cancelled by fail symbols and as long as one success remains you manage to succeed. There are other symbols on the dice which indicate failures, delays, boons and banes, but the one single rule is 1 success or more and you succeed.

What is nice about this system is you can see exactly what made you fail or succeed and this gives you the option to narrate the results and that really is what WFRP comes down to. It’s a story telling experience, not a number crunching game of min/maxing.

Despite the simplicity of the rules I did run into a few problems. For example I could not find a paragraph that stated specifically that you could only perform one action per turn. There is no index in the book (but there is a living index on the FFG website.) so finding specific rules can be a bit faffy at first. That said, the whole point is you should really not need the rules.

Unfortunately there are some more complicated rules, like Healing and recovering from conditions. It would have been nice if these extra rules that required specific rolls had been done on reference cards. Also Weapons and Monsters on cards would have been nice.

Overall the books are well laid out and (despite what people have said elsewhere) there are no rules buried in fluff. The full page examples make it very easy to learn and the setting information provided in Chapter 10 is invaluable. Sure you could easily find it all online, but here it is all collated for you in an easy to read and reference format. Sure, you’ll need to supplement your knowledge for specifics, but this is a good place to start especially for players who may not have any experience with the Warhammer World.

Tome of Adventure

But what about the GM book? Well, last time I said that the core set includes everything you need to play but not necessarily everything you might want. This is what I meant by that. There are nowhere near enough monsters in this book. The book does an excellent job of talking about structure and campaigns and Game Mastering for new players but it does fall short when it comes to interesting foes. There are no rules for creating your own Monsters or NPCs or customising their powers. There isn’t really even a system that explains what monsters are right for the level the party is at.

But, you have to realise that this system doesn’t work on levels and balance and points (despite being set in the Warhammer universe) if the monster is too hard the GM can give the PC’s some good fortune, maybe a good fortified location is nearby or some extra reinforcements. It’s a story telling medium, not a rigid ruleset and that is where my favourite little do-hickey comes in… The Progress Tracker.

This thing is ingenious. It takes what is a difficult and often awkward paper based idea of tracking rounds(or progress) and turns it into a physical track on the table. The beauty of this thing is that you don’t have to tell the players what its for. It could be tracking nothing at all, but it adds tension every time you move a counter along the track, There are so many uses for this gizmo, from tracking initiative, to spell duration, to chase sequences and more, that I’m going to start using it in my other roleplaying games, I like it that much.


I love the simplicity of the rules. I love how harmoniously they work with the components, I do not strictly think the rulebooks are worth “it” on their own, but I would say that about any roleplaying rulebook because I’ve always bought mine on ebay and rarely paid more than £10 even for hard-covers.

They are beautiful to look at and the fluff is great, but these books are not toolboxes like the 3rd ed D&D books. Even with the cards you’re not looking at the billions of possible combinations presented in a D&D core manual. But you also don’t have all those rules to remember. Everything is right in front of you on your cards. You don’t need to ask “what number do I need"?” because all you need is one success in the dice pool.

With the focus shifted away from rules lawyering the GM and the players can concentrate on telling stories. As a GM I hated all those “Can I do this” questions and me having to flip through a billion manuals to find the answer and then having to do long division to work out the result, for what would end in a dry d20 roll. This systems seems to promise freedom for the Games Master as well as the players and that is the main reason why I am giving the core rules a thumbs up!