A Brief, Unspectacular Attempt at 3rd Edition WFRP

As of December 2016, I hadn’t maintained or updated my Amazon wishlist in… I don’t know… years? But my folks, who have ever endeavored to surprise me with Christmas gifts that they knew (or assumed) I wanted, and had newly discovered the ease of shopping online, found Fantasy Flight’s box set for the third edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay deep within a list of graphic novels I had already since purchased (or forgotten about) and now out-of-print vinyl.

So my Christmas present that year was indeed a surprise.

Don’t get me wrong — I was excited to receive it. It was just that, the last time I had played WFRP was probably the summer of 1991 and, except for a brief attempt at Trinity in the early 00’s, that was the last time I had played a tabletop rpg of any kind.

My love affair with gaming during those intervening decades was as tumultuous as my human romantic relationships, and no less complicated. That’s a blog post for another time. Suffice to say while I satisfied a passion for games with a host of different collectible card games and an ever-increasing library of boardgames, I had neither the time nor the support to dive back in to ttrpg’s.

That all changed when I moved back home to San Francisco in 2012. I had reunited with a group of friends and family that loved late nights at a dining room table covered with dice, tokens, and map tiles almost as much as me. Around this same time, my brother, who had never himself played a ttrpg, but had been listening to a number of newly popular gaming podcasts, expressed a desire to start a D&D campaign. My Dungeons & Dragons experience was buried even further back in the past (last time had been… ’87?), but I do know something about this Warhammer universe and it just so happens that we’ve got this massive box of third edition WFRP goodies to explore.

Along with my brother, I recruited two other gaming buddies to the initial session, neither of whom had ever played any real tabletop rpg (one of them was convinced he had, based on experience with Fantasy Flight’s second-edition Descent; I quickly disabused him of that notion). I also roped in my wife and daughter, sold on the notion that this wasn’t at all like Talisman or Runebound with all those cards and crazy dice… it was a storytelling game! We’re going to tell stories together!

And only then did I actually bother going through this new WFRP box. Whaaat.

Some of the special dice required for the 3rd ed. WFRP gameplay mechanic

Pre-generated character cards, not so much character sheets… tracking tokens and spell cards… action cards? Really? And the dice! Proprietary dice with funky symbols and big fists of dice pools! Oh my Sigmar, this really was just a Fantasy Flight boardgame hybridized with some open-ended roleplaying elements. This was not what I had in mind, and not at all what I had promised the group.

Having not discovered 3rd edition WFRP until years after its release, and, really, not until the publisher had stopped supporting the product line, I missed out on years of rpg controversy. Clearly there were people who loved the game (and still do), and folks, like myself, who missed the simplicity of a more pen-and-paper approach to tabletop roleplaying games. Make some maps, maybe paint some miniatures… Roll a d20, roll d100. Let’s spend more time talking about fighting mutants and river-trading on the Reik and less time interpreting that clutch of symbols you just threw all over the table.

We made it through two sessions of the introductory “An Eye for an Eye” scenario, both of which were more entertaining than I anticipated, and it was a marvelous introduction to the hobby for my friends. A barmaid at Ubersreik’s Red Moon Inn was accidentally punched in the face by a clumsy initiate of Morr. A first-time roleplayer in command of a wizard apprentice experienced that lightbulb-moment of being able to do things with her character that she described (I took away everyone’s stupid cards at one point). A coachman showcased the devastating power of a blunderbuss and a quintet of adventurers moved through a hastily drawn map of a hunting lodge (location cards be damned) to uncover clues behind a sinister veil of Chaos worship.

This good time was in spite of the 3rd edition mechanics, however, and soon after that second session I told my friends that I was going to buy all the 2nd edition sourcebooks, convert their characters, and set up a restart of the adventure. I even considering going so far as to recover all my long-lost and sorely missed first-edition books (I had everything) despite exorbitant prices on eBay.

Of course, just as this love affair with the Old World was being rekindled, Cubicle 7 announced its plans for the fourth edition of WFRP. Pre-orders were placed, anticipation heightened, and the rest, as they say…

The purpose of this post is not to heap more shit and outrage onto the 3rd edition. In fact, I bought up some of the less egregiously priced supplements on the secondary market (and, in two cases, in the clearance section of Gamescape on Divisadero), just to have access to more stories, lore, and timeline concepts that post-date that sweet-spot of 2512 I.C. I’m even incorporating parts of The Gathering Storm into my long-running fourth-edition Enemy Within campaign.

The purpose is to draw a line between gaming of my youth (which I still plan to explore in future blog posts), the spark of rediscovery that was an ill-fated foray into WFRP 3rd edition, and my present renewed obsession with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and ttrpg’s in general. To be continued…