Jack at Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque (kudos points for 1980s Citadel flyer "Moria" font banner) has an excellent post here about how, in his experience, WFRP 1e never seemed to equate to the traditional view held by TEH INTERNETS that all WFRP scenarios involve drowning in an alleyway flooded neck-high with Chaos Hound shit.
It's an excellent post and one that chimes in with something I've been thinking lately. Jack is right, WFRP in it's original form is not an roleplaying game of drowning in an alleyway flooded neck-high with Chaos Hound shit. So why do we hold the view? Here's my reasoning.
1 - For a long, long time WFRP was defined by what it was not.
And that not was that it was not AD&D during the dark early to mid 1990s when TSR's public stock was at it's lowest ebb. AD&D was about powergaming and slaughtering things and 2E-era American Bible Belt Bowdlerisation was it not? Well, simply, WFRP will not be those things. Guilty party - the WFRP mailing list we all gloried in this. Including yrs truly.
(An aside - James Wallis once told me over a fry-up late breakfast at GW World Domination Underground Lair Hollowed Out From An Extinct Volcano Shaped Like Tom Kirby's Head Headquarters in Nottingham (I point out that James ate veggie being a full time veggie, your correspondent only practises semi-vegetarianism in the privacy of His Own Home) that he'd considered having a Hogshead t-shirt run up for a late 90s Gencon declaring that some Hogshead game was, almost verbatim quote, "the funniest thing in gaming since TSR went bankrupt". That he should even, if briefly, think this was A Good Idea sums up UK attitudes of the time.)
(Second aside - due to the presence of the huge double-headed eagle on the front of the factory, Nottingham taxi drivers know the building as "The Reichstag". If I ever visit the place again I intend to catch the train and then ask the first guy on the cab rank to proceed to the Reichstag.)
What kept this hoity-toity snobby attitude going was that...
2 - YOU WEREN'T THERE MAN YOU DON'T KNOW!
It had legs with people who heard of the game during either of the three post-GW periods of WFRP 1e, that is Pre-Hogshead (out of print), Hogshead (in print) and Post-Hogshead (out of print). So a new generation of gamers grew up having heard that this WFRP game was the game in which syphilitic PCs drowned in alleyways flooded neck-high with Chaos Hound shit. Even/particularly when they hadn't seen or played it.
One of the reasons for the incompatibility between the two views is that...
3 - The rulebook pre-dates The Enemy Within.
It's as if WFRP, the rulebook, doesn't really know what it is going to be but along comes the big campaign for it and changes it's direction.
According to Graeme Davis (somebody please stop me from all this name-dropping...), in an unlikely and rare instance of YOUR DOING IT RIGHT Bryan Ansell walked into the WFRP area of the GW Studio one day and said "Write a Call of Cthulhu scenario but do it for WFRP".
This is why Shadows over Bogenhafen is a Call of Cthulhu scenario but done for WFRP.
This is why nearly every scenario that post-dates Shadows over Bogenhafen is a Call of Cthulhu scenario but done for WFRP. There's an interesting parallel here in the OSR D&D world in that tournament adventures that got published were influential upon people's home adventures even though those tournament adventures were not really suitable for campaign play because it appeared that the company that printed the game - who really should know - were saying that this is what an AD&D scenario looks like. Case in point - Tomb of Horrors.
Grim and Perilous was therefore retro-fitted to WFRP as a result of the Enemy Within.
(Yes, I know it said Grim and Perilous on the back of the book from day one. That's called foreshadowing).
4 - The rulebook isn't really Warhammer - The Roleplaying Game.
It's chargen sample PC is called Clem Shirestock. Good German name that. I imagine plenty of syphilitic Rat-catchers in the city-states of the Hanseatic League were called that or, if they weren't personally called Clem Shirestock, their small-but-vicious dogs were. The pre-gens in it's scenario are called Mellory, Soho, Bianca and Jodri and they face up against an BBEG called Jonas Whitespore (that dog-shit thing again). Nobody appears to be thinking "Fantasy Germany But Worse!" at this point.
So if it's not Warhammer - The Roleplaying Game, then what is it?
Well, it's Pelinore II.
What? Pelinore was TSR UK's campaign that serialised in IMAGINE which was an attempt to produce a campaign setting more suited to UK tastes. IMAGINE was TSR UK's magazine that got shitcanned by TSR Inc. for the twin sins of cannibalising sales of Dragon in the UK and an attitude that if TSR produced something that was shit then IMAGINE would tell people it was shit. And Uncle Gary could fuck off basically.
When IMAGINE got closed down, TSR UK's disgruntled staff went over to Nottingham and handily there was a great big gaping vacancy for a creative team to produce GW's competitor to AD&D. So effectively they carried on as before.
Ever wondered why WFRP is full of so many stupid punning names? Because Pelinore did that. That's why The Empire went all tits up in it's one thousand nine hundred and seventy ninth year when the electoral system was abandoned following the election of the Empress Magrathe.
Ever wondered what the point of Appendix 1 : Typical Buildings of the Old World was? It's there because Pelinore was built around floorplans of buildings and descriptions of the NPCs therein. WFRP even goes out of it's way to copy the style of Paul Ruiz who did the original floorplans for IMAGINE.
(There's a lot more to be said here - i.e. WFRP being the spiritual successor of Pelinore - but I'd rather expand upon it in a future post as it requires some considerable research and image grabbing. More later hopefully).
5 - Stock artwork.
WFRP has John Blanche pictures of flying galleons (p352 and p353). These do not appear in any part of the WFRP imaginarium, nor indeed Warhammer Fantasy Battle. Much of 1e's atmosphere that leeches out of the illustrations is stuff that simply does not exist in WFRP, like the armoured Mona Lisa standard banner with moon-faced (literally) friend (p357). This is because so much stock artwork was used that GW had commissioned for other projects. If you are bored on a rainy Sunday afternoon try and count how many times bits of the box cover from The Tragedy of McDeath turn up scattered amongst WFRP's page furniture.
WFB 3 is an even worse offender in this respect as it's rulebook appears to be a reference manual to GW's art assets with a fantasy wargame sneaking in wherever white space can be found.
So a picture of flying galleons was shoved in because it looked cool without any real thought as to whether it fitted in with the game.
(COOPS INTERNET COROLLARY - Somebody, who is unique amongst the internet-connected demographic of Planet Earth will now comment to the effect that all their WFRP games involved flying galleons therefore Coop you are as wrong as fuck).
This means that, surprisingly for GW, there isn't a huge amount of art direction in the WFRP project other than that if Blanche or Ackland drew it, it's fine and it doesn't cost us anything. (40K Rogue Trader seems to extend this attitude to cover anything Pete Knifton drew).
This means that the look and feel of WFRP The Rulebook Only version is something of an accident, The Enemy Within was something else. Nobody shoved a picture of a John Blanche flying galleon into Mistaken Identity because it looked cool.
6 - 1990s tastes darker than late 1980s tastes.
WFRP mailing list heyday, early to mid 1990s. WFRP copyright date, 1986.
And really finally this time
7 - It might be time for a WFRP OSR
All the cool kids have gone back to WFB3 played exclusively with 1980s vintage Citadel Miniatures. Perhaps we should have a pre-Enemy Within scene with flying galleons.