My history with WFRP 1e

August 19th, 2018

The first time I saw the hardback WFRP book — it must have been in December of ’86 or ’87 — I fell in love with it. The crazy-haired dwarf on the cover, the smiling warrior shoving a huge sword through some mohawked ogre-like thing, the copy on the back:

The Old World. On the surface, it is a vast and fertile place, filled with teeming cities, Elf-haunted forests and lofty crags where Dwarfs battle with Goblins and their kin. But a shadow hangs over the world, cast by the dark, corrupting hand of Chaos. From the pirate-ridden coast of south Tilea to the fortified villages of the barbaric East, a few heroes strive to hold back the endless tide of Chaos spilling from the north. But Chaos also gnaws from within, and its hidden ser­vants work to bring the world to its knees before the Dark Gods.

I just had to have it. My problem was twofold: 1) I couldn’t afford it, being just 14 or 15 at the time, and 2) my parents wouldn’t allow me to have anything to do with Dungeons & Dragons, probably because it was the ’80s and back then there was a straight line from playing D&D to worshipping Satan. At any rate, it was near Christmas, and I figured I had nothing to lose, so I asked my mom if I could get this “weird fantasy book” as a present. She gave me a strange look, then shrugged her shoulders. Apparently it was just D&D that was inextricably tied to the infernal regions — any other book, including one that referenced “Dark Gods” on the back cover, was fine.

I opened the book on Christmas morning and spent most of the day reading it. It was fascinating, the complex world it detailed, the little hints of adventure ideas and lost civilizations or fallen dwarfholds, Chaos Gods and Gods of Law (!), magic items, detailed bestiary and viscerally bloody combat — all in one book. Most of all, I think, it evoked a vast sense of scale and a living, breathing, pseudo-historical, gritty, messy world and culture that I had never before encountered in a role-playing game.

At the time, I had a regular gaming group made up of neighborhood kids that bounced between Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Palladium Fantasy, Gamma World, Paranoia, and DC Heroes (we even played D&D from time to time, just never at my house). Our gaming schedule was so busy with ongoing campaigns I could never squeeze in more than a scenario or two of WFRP, and it was never very popular with the group (“I die too easy!”, “We’re too weak!” etc etc). So that wonderful book sat in my closet gathering dust for a while.

Fast forward a year or two, when I could drive myself to Comics Utah, a “local” comic book store about 20 miles away and the only place I knew of that sold role-playing games. On one of my weekly comics runs, I spotted another book in the WFRP line: Death on the Reik. I grabbed it immediately and thumbed through it, again intrigued by the complex adventure ideas and captivated by the absolutely gorgeous interior art (to this day Martin McKenna is my favorite WFRP artist). I had never seen a gaming product that open-ended, where PCs could just mess about on the river and go anywhere they wanted before certain events were triggered and the main plot moved along seamlessly. I thought about it long and hard, but couldn’t justify spending what little money I had on a game we weren’t actively playing. Reluctantly I put it back on the shelf.

But I couldn’t get it out of my mind. It was qualitatively different from anything I had seen before, orders of magnitude better than the games we were currently playing. I remember finally calling Comics Utah a few days later:

“Hey, uh, do you still have a copy of Death on the Reek?”

A pause. “Do you mean Death on the Rike? Yeah we still have it.”

So I learned two things on that phone call: 1) how to properly pronounce “Reik” and 2) the book was still available for purchase! I ran straight out and bought DotR, and while the main rulebook initially drew me into the world it was DotR that cemented my lifelong love of the system and setting. Everything about that product was a work of genius to my teenaged brain, from the warpstone-laden “spittle of Morrslieb” to the foppish Imperial Plenipotentiary in Kemperbad through the down-on-their-luck but still proud and honor-bound band of dwarfs right up to the climax at Castle Wittgenstein. And the art. Oh, the art.

So even though we still were not actively playing WFRP, I later bought every supplement I could off the shelves of that same store before it went out of business sometime in the 90s: Power Behind the Throne, Warhammer City, Something Rotten in Kislev, Empire in Flames, Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness, Death’s Dark ShadowWarhammer Companion and even a few Doomstones. It would be nearly a decade before I was able to track down the original Enemy Within and Shadows Over Bogenhafen pamphlets on a WFRP message board auction site in the late 90s (anybody remember the days prior to eBay?) and then another 5 or 6 years until I could finally get another group together to actually run the campaign. We made it all the way through Death on the Reik before life again got in the way.

Not long after that, Second Edition was released. But that’s a story for a different post.

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