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Does Warhammer Suffer from an Identity Crisis


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#1 donbaloo

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Posted 20 August 2009 - 05:24 PM

I've gotta toss this out and hear what you experienced Warhammer folks have to say.  As I've mentioned in another post, I'm very excited about a new Warhammer edition and the more I read about the parts that folks are finding most questionable the more interested I become.  However one thing continues to bother me, as it did with v2 as well.

The impression you get from Warhammer players and simply its legacy in general is that its a rough world where PC's are average joe's being, most of the time reluctantly,  thrust into saviour roles.  Then their mettle is tested by determining if they can manage to take every punch in the throat and stab in the back the Old World throws at them and still save the day....or die an ignoble death at the hands of some petty thief or freak of nature cultist.  That's the expectation I bring when I look to Warhammer.

But then the art.  The art doesn't say any of that.  Its mohawks on tough as hell dwarves that you just know, YOU KNOW, you don't want to mess with.  Big bulky armors with lots of spikes and hammers the size bulldozers, being wielded by what might as well BE a bulldozer.  Wizards with deadly glares, no fear, and FLAMING HAIR....YESSSSS!!!  Right?  Is that Warhammer?

I like the darkness of the art, that fits at least.  But where's the pics of the skinny gagging coachman being strangled and having an eye torn out by some gaunt cultists?  Where's the grungy grave robber with the bulging eyes, watching as a couple skaven surprise him and rake open his guts?  The desperate and wounded hunter who's trying to gain purchase in the mud, wild eyed as some freak of nature bears down on him?  Know what I'm saying?

Do most folks play all crazy haired and beefcaked heroism or is there a lot of average joes trying not to drown in the chaotic muck of the Old World?



#2 Nullius

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Posted 20 August 2009 - 05:42 PM

I feel, more or less, as you do. The rags to riches tale, in Dark Heresy and WFR is a source of interesting (and ocaisionally hilarious) drama. Characters with humble beginnings were at the core of the original RPG experience (back in the D&D days of yore). The original D&D was almost absurdly lethal, and simple survival was often the driving force of the game. Achievement of wealth and power were worthy goals because they were difficult to accomplish, and a character who'd survived to an epic level was a rare thing. WFR should inhabit this lost genre.

 

Comic-book character-style heroes are very boring to me. They represent the fulfillment of a set of fantasy's I've never particularly had (power, revenge, esteem, etc...)  And yet, these seem to be the images we've thus far seen on the various 3rd ed paraphenalia. 

 

On the other hand, the "Ratcatcher's Tale" thing seemed to indicate a firm rooting in the original RPG genre. The protagonist in that tale, despite his horrific end, is an ordinary man thrust into extrordinary circumstances. I'd happily play a ratcatcher, given the chance.



#3 Armrek

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Posted 20 August 2009 - 11:16 PM

Maybe that's what most of the Fans miss, warhammer is turning main stream; in the 1st ed stuff there was plenty uf subtle dark sinister stuff and know it's probalby getting all to nice and perfect. I hear someone say about the new rulebooks they look like the D&D rulebooks. So if the game comes to look like anything else it'l be watered down, I don't hope that'l be the case and I still miss an undependent review of the game... 



#4 superklaus

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Posted 21 August 2009 - 12:19 AM

donbaloo said:

But then the art.  The art doesn't say any of that.  Its mohawks on tough as hell dwarves that you just know, YOU KNOW, you don't want to mess with.  Big bulky armors with lots of spikes and hammers the size bulldozers, being wielded by what might as well BE a bulldozer.  Wizards with deadly glares, no fear, and FLAMING HAIR....YESSSSS!!!  Right?  Is that Warhammer?

I like the darkness of the art, that fits at least.  But where's the pics of the skinny gagging coachman being strangled and having an eye torn out by some gaunt cultists?  Where's the grungy grave robber with the bulging eyes, watching as a couple skaven surprise him and rake open his guts?  The desperate and wounded hunter who's trying to gain purchase in the mud, wild eyed as some freak of nature bears down on him?  Know what I'm saying?

 

I can absolutely understand you in this. Many pieces of the artwork dont depict the general feel of the WH world or how it is always described by fans. Maybe the "gritty" thing in Warhammer is more a wishful thinking than reality. I also dont think that the 2e system is very gritty (I know rpg rule systems which fit much better to this term) I guess that heroic pics in Warhammer are just reflections of how Games Workshop sees its game world, especially the tabletop game. It just sells better to the average joe than dark and evil pictures like the strangled gagging coachman. OTOH in many pieces of the artwork, even the "heroic" ones, there is a taint of Monty Pythonesque humor which I really appreciate. Compare it to the straight clean art of DnD4e. Which becomes more and more a superhero game with each edition. I guess in DnD5th edition everyone get a cape. :)

 

donbaloo said:

Do most folks play all crazy haired and beefcaked heroism or is there a lot of average joes trying not to drown in the chaotic muck of the Old World?

In my game PCs are normal people (slightly above the average) which are thrown into adventures in a rather evil WH world. Sometimes the mood is apocalyptic sometimes not so. (depends on the scenario and the country I am playing in) But its never a happy powergamers show and death is everywhere. But thats just me. I know other groups which play the game much more heroic and PCs death is not possible there.

 

 



#5 Hellebore

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Posted 21 August 2009 - 01:32 AM

I think it's more that Warhammer suffers from a top down approach these days instead of a bottom up approach.

 

The majority of art depicts the heroes of the different warhammer races. Mighty warriors that take to the battlefield in whatever name they deam appropriate.

Although there are plenty of pictures in the 2nd ed books of peasants selling things or sitting in dingy and dirty bars. But alot of the individual pictures rather than group scenes do have that feel.

On the other hand, a dwarf is a dwarf. when one becomes a trollslayer, walks around mostly naked and wears a mowhawk, they look scary. you don't have to be a heroic champion of your people to look scary. The 7' tall dock thug with a SB5 looks scary.

 

The problem is that military heroes don't go adventuring. They are too busy, you know, being in the military. Where taking orders precludes free time to adventure.

 

Warhammer is still mainly dirty peasants living miserable lives. Just as the majority of humanity in the Imperium of Man live like rats. In the armies there are very few 'average joe' soldiers as most units are composed of professional soldiery. In the Empire army only the Free companies and bowmen/huntsmen represent something closer to the normal man and thus the average character in a WFRP2 game.

But the art GW produces only shows the mighty because their armies are made up OF the mighty. They aren't representative of the race or nation as a whole. It would be like a book about European nobility. of course the book is full of nothing but obscenely wealthy people dressed in opulence finery but that doesn't mean everyone in Europe lives like that.

 

The problem with playing characters like those depicted is that, as military officers/enlisted men, they don't have much freedom. You would be playing games like they were missions. Being sent to fight in random parts of the land for reasons that don't affect you. The game would be like a space marine Deathwatch game in theme, if not in power level.

In order to have your cake and eat it too you have to come up with some really weak and contrived reasons for enlisted men to go awol for months at a time adventuring for personal profit.

The point is that the most romantic characters are generally the ones least suited to adventuring because of all the inworld limitations on them.

 

Hellebore



#6 Armrek

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Posted 21 August 2009 - 01:56 AM

Hellebore said:

In order to have your cake and eat it too you have to come up with some really weak and contrived reasons for enlisted men to go awol for months at a time adventuring for personal profit.

I agree on that point. In the novels of old written for warhammer there were pictures. An the stories where about the apprentices or farmboys with magical talents getting better and improving. All this was made in a sinister setting. Like in "The Reavers and the Dead" written by Charles Davidson in the "Ignorant Armies" novel compilaton from 1989. These stories where dark and sinister.

I really miss that, now it's all hero stuff and military batlle settings most of the time.



#7 Ravenheart87

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Posted 21 August 2009 - 02:08 AM

 Troll slayers are cool. Bright wizards are cool. Sigmarite warrior priests are cool. Warhammer is a cool game. Of course they'll put the cool faces on the cover. Try to sell a game, with a dirty rat catcher, a drunken peasent, and a camp follwer wench on cover to others, than the fanatic Warhammer players. Besides, these "covergirls of Warhammer" are also icon members of the setting, but they are on a higher level than most will meet during the game.

It's hard to create an ideal Warhammer cover, which everyone likes, because the Warhammer setting has way too many faces. Ratcatchers and dirty sewers, band of outlaws in dark forests, intriguing nobles in a flashy palace, battling beasts in lost ruins, seeking heretics in the heart of a city, colorful knights battling the armies of Chaos, et cetera... These are all different faces of the Warhammer setting. You can't put all of these on a single cover, but you can play any of them.



#8 Hellebore

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Posted 21 August 2009 - 02:41 AM

Ravenheart87 said:

 Troll slayers are cool. Bright wizards are cool. Sigmarite warrior priests are cool. Warhammer is a cool game. Of course they'll put the cool faces on the cover. Try to sell a game, with a dirty rat catcher, a drunken peasent, and a camp follwer wench on cover to others, than the fanatic Warhammer players. Besides, these "covergirls of Warhammer" are also icon members of the setting, but they are on a higher level than most will meet during the game.

It's hard to create an ideal Warhammer cover, which everyone likes, because the Warhammer setting has way too many faces. Ratcatchers and dirty sewers, band of outlaws in dark forests, intriguing nobles in a flashy palace, battling beasts in lost ruins, seeking heretics in the heart of a city, colorful knights battling the armies of Chaos, et cetera... These are all different faces of the Warhammer setting. You can't put all of these on a single cover, but you can play any of them.

 

Very nicely put.

 

Hellebore



#9 donbaloo

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Posted 21 August 2009 - 05:29 AM

Ravenheart87 said:

 Troll slayers are cool. Bright wizards are cool. Sigmarite warrior priests are cool. Warhammer is a cool game. Of course they'll put the cool faces on the cover. Try to sell a game, with a dirty rat catcher, a drunken peasent, and a camp follwer wench on cover to others, than the fanatic Warhammer players. Besides, these "covergirls of Warhammer" are also icon members of the setting, but they are on a higher level than most will meet during the game.

Yeah, I can see that being the case.  I guess maybe that's what makes Warhammer approachable by an audience with such varied taste.  For my personal gaming tastes for example, trollslayers, sigmarite warrior priests (of the sort depicted in the art), and bright wizards are decidedly uncool.  I don't enjoy High Fantasy so much these days so when I first looked through the v2 books I bought, those aspects were very big turnoffs and certainly not what I was expecting.

Your point is a good one though, as those are aspects that are present in the Old World as written.  So whether your tastes are low or high I guess Warhammer has something for you.  You are also correct in that those High Fantasy aspects certainly serve as Warhammer Cover Girls.  If it weren't for the reputation of grim and dirty, the cover art of most of WFRP would assuredly turn me away.  But then again, I don't generally like to use nonhuman races in my games any more either.  Heroic High Fantasy probably does generally sell better though.



#10 Nullius

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Posted 25 August 2009 - 09:12 PM

There is always the counter-argument that somebody wants to play as an epic character, space marine, etc, and why should the game not service them instead of the traditional RPG player. I would counter;  while it is very easy to ramp up PC capabilities by building on the foundations provided by basic characters, it is not as easy to scale an epic game back to a level where ordinary folks are practical or desirable to play.

It is fairly easy to play a Space Marine in Dark Heresy, for example. If the game were built around Space Marines, however, it would be a real chore to use the rules to design normal lvl 1 human acolytes and the environs to challenge them without annihilating them. An Epic game using standard rules is easy. A gritty and human story using epic rules is a lot of work.

Playing a ratcather in 'Exalted,' for example, would not appeal to me. Every aspect of the game is scaled to destroy or subjegate normal humans. Even that, notwithstanding, the setting is so epic and so based on ideas of divine right and endowment, that every moment of play would only serve to remind the simple ratcatcher that though he might become a great man in his own eyes, he is still only an insect among titans, who didn't have the good fortune to be 'picked' out of the crowd and given greatness ny some arbitrary god. His achievements are as insignifigant as his continued survival. He simply does not have a big enough 'dice pool' to compete. And he never will.

I would actually go so far as to say that the two style of play represent whole different philosophies. The old WFR or AD&D method is very democratic. The superhero thing is painfully elitist in its underpinnings.



#11 Cynical Cat

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Posted 25 August 2009 - 09:54 PM

I'm going to digress slightly so bear with me.  Back in the 1980s I discovered the Black Company books by Glen Cook.  It's a dark and gritty setting.  The main characters are hard men and women, mercenaries working for a bad cause fighting against rebellion which uses populist propaganda but is lead by men and women just as bad as the Black Company's paymasters.  The Black Company characters would mostly fit into WFRP.  Mercenary soldiers, minor magicians, physicians, ranger types and so on.  The leaders on both sides are very powerful wizards who were very hard to kill.  In D&D terms they had a lot of levels and hit points and there was no way that the Black Company soldiers would have much of a chance against them.  But they took a bunch of them down.  They could be hurt.  They could be taken by surprised and ambushed and shot with enchanted arrows and dog piled and so on and so forth.

The kick ass wizards with the fancy clothes got the front cover and they did so because they looked cool.

 

Warhammer is like that.  The top tier includes centuries old elf lords wearing magical everthing who have been blade masters for longer than a dwarf has lived, champions of chaos wearing bonded and wielding cursed blades that have left human frailty behind long ago, ancient and terrible dragons, daemons that act as the avatars of insane gods and so on.  They are crush you like a bug powerful, but like in Black Company there is no "I have five more levels so you can't win".  You can crush the chaos lord in an avalanche, slit the elf lord's throat while he's sleeping, poison the dragon, and lure the great daemon to a gunpowder loaded trap and blow it up.  Everyone has to eat, wounds leave scars, the lowly can kill the mighty under the right circumstances, and even the strongest mind can break under the strain.  What makes the setting grim and gritty isn't that there aren't any high fantasy elements, but that they don't trump the reality of living.   A master wizard can die from eating bad food, a cut throat can end a champion, and a mighty dwarven slayer can be downed by a few ordinary crossbowmen..



#12 donbaloo

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Posted 26 August 2009 - 12:42 AM

 Great post Cynical Cat, and The Black Company is exactly what I think of when I consider the type of fantasy game I want.  I even expected WFRP to be very much like The Black Company as far as tone.  So, thanks for peeking into my brain and addressing that...



#13 Cynical Cat

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Posted 26 August 2009 - 12:53 AM

Thanks for the praise.  While I'm at it, let me highly recommend R. Scott Bakker's Prince of Nothing.  It'll give you a good dose of really well written dirty and realistic fantasy along with kick ass battles, intrigue,  and high powered sorcery.  Superficially it is a loosely based on the First Crusade, but much more is going on under the surface as an ancient evil prepares to unleash the Second Apocalypse.



#14 donbaloo

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Posted 26 August 2009 - 01:32 AM

 Noted and thanks for the recommendation.  Though perhaps not exactly quality literature, Cook's The Black Company series has become the standard for the style of fantasy I most enjoy since reading them back in 2001.  I'm always looking for something that fits that same style.  



#15 Steerpike

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Posted 26 August 2009 - 01:34 AM

donbaloo said:

 Noted and thanks for the recommendation.  Though perhaps not exactly quality literature, Cook's The Black Company series has become the standard for the style of fantasy I most enjoy since reading them back in 2001.  I'm always looking for something that fits that same style.  

 

Try Steven Erikson's Malazan series.  If you like The Black Company, you'll probably dig those as well.  The first one is Gardens of the Moon.



#16 donbaloo

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Posted 26 August 2009 - 01:46 AM

 The Erikson stuff has been in my Amazon wishlist since I saw a comparison to The Black Company on another site.  We just had our first child this year so free time has been a bit scarce (though joyfully so) but I look forward to checking them out as well when I have the time.  Thanks for reminding me of the though Steerpike...

Sorry for the threadjack, we now return you to your regularly scheduled programming...



#17 Cynical Cat

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Posted 26 August 2009 - 02:31 AM

Erikson is great but he's more high fantasy.



#18 Steerpike

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Posted 26 August 2009 - 05:17 AM

Cynical Cat said:

Erikson is great but he's more high fantasy.

 

I don't think I'd call it High Fantasy.  I think of Forgotten Realms fantasy as falling into that category.  I think Erikson is closer in tone and style to the Black Company than to Salvatore, for example.  There is powerful magic wielded in both Erikson's work and in the Black Company series, but neither are set in a world where your average person makes use of magic, and magic is pretty dangerous in both as well.



#19 Cynical Cat

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Posted 26 August 2009 - 11:08 AM

Salvatore isn't very good at all, but Erikson has has shape shifters, flying castles, and gods walking around.  He's high fantasy.  That's not an insult or a critique.  You can do high fantasy and still have characters that are ordinary thieves or soliders.  There are strong similarities to the Black Company,  but Erikson lists them one of his inspirations so that's not surprising.  The Malazan books are a great example of high fantasy that is realistically portrayed and that the genre is not necessarily a pastel painted affair with shining knights killing dragons. 



#20 Redcrow

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Posted 26 August 2009 - 02:54 PM

For me Warhammer has 2 distinct faces.  You have the WFB face and the WFRP face.  WFB is where the elite of the elite fight on the front lines of battle and WFRP is where the lowly Rat-Catchers and Coachman fight The Enemy Within by uncovering the plots of chaos cults across the Old World, but away from the front lines of battle. 

WFB is where the Elf Lords and Champions of Sigmar fight side by side to defend The Empire from the forces of Chaos.  The only real plots/schemes here are enemy tactics and strategy, but more or less everything is in-your-face.

WFRP is where the lowly Beggar or the Servant overhears or stumbles upon something they shouldn't and are thrust into adventure.  Here there are lots of plots/schemes that must be uncovered to keep the Empire from rotting from within.  By the end of a campaign, after several careers, these characters might be ready to join the elite on the front lines. 

This is more or less how I saw and ran things in 1e.  However 2e seemed to push WFRP closer to WFB in terms of more combat oriented careers and fewer average joe careers and my biggest concern is that 3e is going to push things even further in that direction.

There are numerous RPGs out there that do High Fantasy and larger than life heroics.  IMO what separates WFRP from all the others is its Low Fantasy approach where more often than not characters are thrust into adventures that are over there heads.  This is where the non-combat careers are important in creating that feeling.  But when you have a party of characters that are mostly combat oriented, that feeling tends to get lost.  I've also always ran WFRP as more of a mystery and intrigue game where combat tends to be incidental rather than integral to the story and definitely not something the characters willingly seek out.  If you want a Warhammer game that focuses on combat then thats what WFB is for.

As always, this all just my opinion.






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