Thematic groups - The mostly untapped potential of WFRP
Ok, Wall Of Text incoming I’ve written this partly just to get it off my chest, partly to get more ideas from the community and partly to give others ideas for their games.
In most fantasy RPG groups, no matter if it’s WFRP, D&D or any other fantasy setting, group composition and adventures tend to follow a pretty recognizable formula: Everyone makes their own character of a more or less random class/career, makes a background story and then tries to come up with a reason for this bunch of often completely unrelated characters to stick together while seeking fame, fortune, justice or what have you. The group might often consist of characters that make you wonder “Why the heck are these people sticking together?” Many groups just ignore this question, which for me just leaves it hanging there as a big inconsistency in the ongoing story of the campaign. Some might come up with an excuse that at least let you ignore the question, but isn’t always particularly believable.
Most adventures are written to accommodate this kind of group, having a story hook for the group where they more or less blunder into something and become the accidental heroes of the story, no matter what kind of characters the group is made up of. Which often leaves parts of the adventure sort of vague, in order to be usable for all kinds of groups.
This isn’t as much a problem in other games, because the classes (particularly in D&D) are often more or less generic “adventurer” types. So they often just fit naturally into going adventuring with fellow adventurers.
WFRP on the other hand has the career system which defines both what the character is and what he was. What social status he has, what kind of environment he probably grew up in and what kind of motivations he probably has. The careers give you much stricter lines to work within than the generic “fighter” and “wizard” of D&D, but at the same time connects the character to the rich setting of Warhammer in a way that generic classes do not.
The “weakness” of this system is that most careers are exactly that, a job the character already knows. He doesn’t really need to travel the Empire in search of some way to earn his keep. His career already defines a way for him to make money (well, it usually does at least). Instead of explaining why your characters are adventuring, the career usually contradicts the very concept of the character being an “adventurer”.
I’d say the career system is the single most distinct part of WFRP that sets it apart from other fantasy RPGs. But most games of WFRP seems to try to ignore this part of the game and instead try to run it like any other rpg with more generic classes, which I feel is a waste of potential. I feel we’re often fighting against the system by making up excuses for the careers and particularly career transitions in order to make WFRP work like a normal RPG instead of using the careers as a way to enhance the story.
What I’m hoping to see more off, is groups based around a concept. The party sheets sort of lean towards this idea, but are naturally pretty generic. What I’m talking about is making groups composed of character who’s careers mesh to make a party that fits as well into the Warhammer setting as the individual careers does. Groups that basically have something close to a job that they do, which fits them into a particular type of adventures, and defines the kind of adventure hooks that will hook them, what they can and can’t do based on their social standing, what motivates them and explains naturally why the group sticks together.
These kinds of groups can appear by accident, but are generally better produced by planning between the GM and the players. The selection of careers is much narrower now than it used to be, but by looking through the careers, there’s quite a few concepts I can think of.
Examples of what I’m talking about:
A Witch Hunter and his retinue: In the Empire, many Witch Hunters travel the land, looking for corruption to root out. Travel on the roads can be dangerous and dealing with any corruption found (not to mention angry mobs) can be even more dangerous. Any Witch Hunter who wants a shot at a long career would do well to have a few trusted helpers for his protection and to help in his holy work.
Party could be composed of:
Witch Hunter (either player controlled or GM controlled) and several helpers.
Someone big and burly who can work as your bodyguard as well as interrogator, prison guard and executer, for example a Thug, Mercenary, Pit Fighter or Mercenary.
Someone sneaky to help with the investigation and social interaction, like a Thief or Agent. Someone for tracking down heretics and for covert operations, like a Hunter or Scout.
Some religious fanatic who follows the Witch Hunter, glorying in doing the work of Sigmar. Like an Initiate, Zealot of Flaggelant.
A Traveling Judge and his retinue: Smaller communities do not have much in the way of official representatives of the law. While most disputes can be settled by the village major or similar, some cases demand the attention of someone more versed in Empire law and in judging right and wrong. This is where travelling judges come in, going from village to village, offering their services.
The party would be pretty similar to the Witch Hunter party, but led by a Bailiff instead and could also contain a scribe or student.
A Heist-group. To pull of the big jobs, most criminals need to work as a team. This group goes where there is a chance of getting their hands on large amounts of money trough illegal means. Robbing money transports, conning nobles, smuggling illicit goods, anything to get the big pay-off.
The party could consist off:
A Thief (duh), a smuggler, thug or gambler. Obviously, you could use other careers as well, depending on what kind of jobs you are planning on doing, but the ones listed are the most obvious for this kind of skulduggery.
The City Watch. A group of city watchmen run into all kinds of problems during their workday. Maybe there’s a serial killer they need to track down? Or a large robbery that needs solving? A drug ring that needs to be cracked down on? Watchmen might not move around the Empire like other adventuring groups, but on the other hand, people who have problems show up at their doorstep and dumps their troubles on the players.
The party would obviously consist of all Watchmen. However, in order to not have everyone be identical, have the players create characters as normal, then transition everyone to the Watchman career for free.
Academics. Mysteries may appear in the large Universities of Altdorf and Nuln. The administration might not want to get the authorities involved in order to avoid a scandal ruining the good name of the institution, or perhaps the administration are the culprits? Finding out what is happening, might be up to a group of nosy kids who see that something is amiss at their place of learning.
The party could consist of:
A student, an apprentice wizard, a dilettante, a scribe, a barber surgeon or servant.
These are just the party concepts I can think of at the moment. I’m sure there are many more that you can think of by looking through the available careers. And there will be even more once more careers are released by FFG.
I feel that making groups like these adds a deeper and more distinct flavour to the game than the regular adventure schtick that fantasy rpgs usually fall into. Obviously, it has to be a flavour that everyone in the group is interested in immersing themselves in, but once everyone is on the same page, it can be much easier to make the story flow, and often easier for the GM to direct the group in the right direction, as their motivations and MO is more easily predicted.
Anyone able to come up with some more group concepts? Or have anything else to add? Feel free to comment!