There's been a number of discussions about existing Warhammer resources and backgrounds, so I thought I'd update and post this, originally written for new players of Warhammer Online. Apologies for the formatting; this forum breaks the Word and BBCode I wrote it in.
++WARHAMMER MERCH: IN UR WALLETS TAKING UR CASH
Warhammer Fantasy Battles was originally released in 1983. The 7th edition was released in the fall of '06, sporting over fifteen separate armies, each with a miniature line of hundreds of different figures. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, was first available in 1987, the Second Edition, was released in 2004, recently changing from GW’s in-house development to a license now under Fantasy Flight Games. Games Workshop publishes a huge number of Warhammer novels and artbooks through their Black Library imprint. Black Library has been around since the late 90’s, but GW first started publishing novels in the mid/late 80’s. Many of the first novels released under BL were reprints of older (and very out of date) novels.
++OK, WHATEVER. WHERE ARE THE GOODS?
Over the past two and a half decades Games Workshop has produced a library of stories, army books, art books, and novels based on Warhammer. These are where the details are found, and anyone looking for in-depth information should go.
Where to start, then? There's no official entry point to Warhammer background, as most of the really detailed stuff is scattered across hundreds of books. With a few exceptions, novels, background books, and game books, tend to focus on a single nation, race, or event. So, to make things easier, I've grouped some of the better sources below in general categories.
This is not an exhaustive list, particularly in the game materials section; there I’ve highlighted books I feel give the best story resources to use as inspiration for running or playing WFRP.
+Warhammer: the Game of Fantasy Battles, 7th edition
In my opinion, the best consolidated "top-down" view of Warhammer available in book form. While half the book is rules, there's still plenty of artwork, great atmosphere, plenty of miniatures pictures, and a solid world guide. Plus, if you decide to start playing with toy soldiers, you'll be all set.
The various army books are the single best resource for detailed information about a single race. At 22 bucks a piece they’re pricy, especially as you get about a third background and the rest rules. If you can find 4th/5th edition army books, they may be priced cheaper, and often have as much or more background. Some may end up being dated.
+Warhammer Armies: Undead 4th edition: mostly reprinted in Liber Necris (see below) this contains a detailed account of the sorcerer Nagash, his creation of Necromancy and the Tomb Kings, and the later wars against the Vampire Counts. Nagash’ story is relatively original and a classic Warhammer blend of historical bits, epic dark magic, and over-the-top events.
+Warhammer Armies: Skaven 4th edition: reprinted or rewritten in places, this book is packed with awesome stories and flavor bits, such as skaven stealing all the children of a town, and the thirteen stanzas of the Doom of Kavzar. This book is distinct from the later 6th edition book as the back is a bright red (instead of dark brown/red) and it has a screaming bell on the cover, rather than a warlock engineer standing on a cannon.
+Realm of Chaos: the Lost and the Damned and Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness. If you see these and have spare cash, buy them. Perhaps the finest gaming books ever published, these two are packed with background, stories, and incredible artwork. Some of this found its way into Liber Chaotica (see below), but a fair amount has not seen print since. Each of these books can go for a $100 or so on eBay. They include WFRP 1st edition information, so may provide relatively easy conversion opportunities.
+Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 2nd edition
Rather like the WFB rulebook: lots of art, half game rules, and half background. This is a "bottom-up" view of Warhammer, so instead of mighty heroes, nations, epic histories, WFRP focuses on cultures, politics, economy, and life in the Warhammer world. It is very Empire-centric, focusing on that nation almost completely.
An important note on WFRP 2nd: WFRP 2nd edition books are no longer in print (but are available via PDF) and often fetch very high prices on eBay or the like. In general, when paying money for older books, I’d prefer to buy older WFRP or WFB books. Games Workshop’s materials tend to be more evocative rather than prescriptive; WFRP 2nd was very detailed (Sigmar's Heirs, for example, documents *every single* village and town in the Empire), but often got certain details wrong (swapped names, dates, etc) and I find were more restrictive than inspirational. Much effort and space is dedicated to minutiae, while the important things (atmosphere, mythology) are missed or not present. Rules should be relatively convertible, so some value may still be found in adventures.
+World of Warhammer (minus the "Online. Craft.") has the widest scope of any no-rules background-only book. It's roughly the same stuff you can find on the GW website, but a bit more detailed, in handy book form, and somewhat dated. A few things have changed, and stylistically, it's based off of the Warhammer 5th edition era. As such, it's quite a bit brighter and cartoonier than older or newer artwork and stories. This is the era that slightly predated and coincides with Blizzard's first Warcraft releases, so is visually the closest to their work. With those caveats in mind, it's still a solid book, especially if you don't want to purchase game rules you won't use.
+Liber Chaotica. The best of the best. Even though it's nominally focused on Chaos, this book actually covers, via artwork, layout, poems, and text, key ideas in the Warhammer world. Magic, psychology, geography, history... it's a detailed look at all the things that make the Warhammer world different from the real world, or other fantasy realms. Although it's a bit dense, especially if you're just introduced to Warhammer, it's really one of the finest quality products GW/BL has ever released. Just be careful... by the end you'll be reading backwards-written and backwards text in a mirror to decipher hidden messages in the previous text. Literally.
This was going for up to $900 until recently – Black Library re-released it November of 2009
The following Black Library background books are largely out of print and difficult to find. All are worth it if you can find and/or afford them.
+Liber Necris is full of reprints from the 4th edition Undead book, which is a good thing. It actually helps bring Vampires from a fantasy cliché to something very unique to the Warhammer world in all but name.
+Vile Ratmen is an entertaining book, even if fanciful and written about magic boogeymen that don’t exist.
+The Life of Sigmar, and The Witch Hunter's Handbook are written and published in an “in-character” style, as the kind of materials Imperials and/or Witch Hunters in training might use. Both could be great props and adventure hooks.
+Empire at War, is dry, but interesting enough if you're into military textbooks.
+Grudgelore is a good call for Dwarf fans, and packed with some decent artwork of tiny, bearded men.
+Blood on the Reik is largely an artbook, but offers some great atmosphere and Warhammer goodness. Like fish hats.