Surviving Warhammer

This afternoon, I finished running a Warhammer RPG scenario for Michele. (This is the game mentioned in the previous post.) We played the “introductory adventure” from the back of the main rulebook, and both had a great deal of fun with it. Here are some quick impressions of the adventure and the game itself:

  • The setting is gritty and depressing–an interesting twist on the “heroic swords-and-sorcery” genre. The game picks up in the aftermath of a massive, Empire-shaking war that has left much of the world in a shambles. From the characters’ perspective at least, the world is falling apart around them, and there’s no good news on the horizon.
    This added a fun sense of desperation and urgency to the whole affair, I thought.

  • The characters seem really “grounded” in the game world. They have believable jobs and roles in the setting. Michele made three characters–a Dwarf mercenary, an Elf apprentice wizard, and (most entertaining of all) a human peasant charcoal-burner (yes, a person who burns charcoal for a living). All had definite careers and motivations in the Warhammer world, instead of just belonging to that rather nebulous “wandering adventurer” career.
  • Combat is deadly; no matter how tough you are, you’re only one or two blows away from getting maimed or killed. All it takes is one solid hit. This makes combat feel a lot riskier, as well as more tense and exciting. In a lot of games, you have ample warning (i.e. dropping hit points) that a fight is not going your way; in Warhammer, you could pretty easily go from perfect health to death in a single round. Also, the game has some impressively gruesome critical hit tables (reminiscent of, but not as detailed as, the ones in Rolemaster).
    The first thing Michele did after her first combat encounter was buy all the armor her characters could afford. Two of her three characters were severely wounded, and this from a rather “routine” encounter with some mutants.

  • There’s a definite undercurrent of gloom and horror in Warhammer. The game features “insanity points” which characters gain when they view horrifying or sanity-shattering sights; this gives it a fun Call of Cthulhu vibe (although Warhammer’s insanity points aren’t as central to the game as they are in CoC).
  • The adventure we played (“Through the Drakwald,” included in the main rulebook) was quite good. It was unexpectedly heavy on mood and roleplaying opportunities. Michele’s characters ran into one big combat encounter, and spent the rest of the time trying to figure out the adventure’s central mystery as it unfolded around them.
    The adventure also involved several meaningful but difficult moral choices.

  • At two separate points in the adventure, the events taking place made me feel really sad. As in, emotionally sad. Fantasy RPGs do not usually trigger emotional responses in me, but this one did. Maybe it’s the humidity.

Those are my immediate reactions. In summary: Warhammer is an excellent game. I’m hoping to continue playing it with Michele (and anyone else who wants to join). If you’re looking for a game that takes traditional fantasy tropes and gives them a grim and unusual spin, it’s definitely worth checking out.

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