I started the Warhammer Fantasy Role Playing experience with Hogshead products, supplemented with material for the tabletop miniatures strategy game because the backgrounds were often too thin to do what I needed to do. When Green Ronin took over, I was pleasantly shocked to see the effort and tone and successful interpretation they lavished on the setting.
This book is a slender 128 page tome, but it is absolutely useful–not just for Warhammer, but for any fantasy game. (You can take their structure and tables and substitute your own content if you need to see how it can be more universally useful.) The loose system and guidance for handling the process of becoming a ruler, and maintaining that rule against internal and external threats, is worth the price of admission.
On top of that, there is a method for generating an area–geography, rulers, ruins and lairs, and economy. The whole project is story-based, so it doesn’t get bogged down in simulationist madness. At the same time, it IS story based, so it wants the players to have places for their characters to go, quick sketch flavors, rapidly generated hints for important NPCs, and a path to claim a territory and rule it. The process offers anchor points that will add a sense of realism, bolstered by quirky and memorable deviations.
All that is fine and good. But then we get to the next level of usefulness. Warhammer has always, in my mind, succeeded best as it took the sensibilities of Tolkien and used them to inform a familiar European history sideways. This book is spot-on in its tone, with the wry acknowledgement of mortality and immorality, its cynical take on politics and the value of life in a harsh and kaledoscopic political landscape, in the face of threats both military and environmental that make long-term “success” an ephemeral and strange objective that would not resonate with the determined rulers of their postage-stamp territories.
The writing is a pleasure to read, even when it is being utilitarian. The fine sense of how much structure is enough, and how much is too much, is a well-struck balance. The art is evocative and very Warhammer. The tools provided give a foundation that should power even an uninspired DM to create a fantastic setting.
Consider the magnitude of this book’s victory. It manages to serve as a hex crawl stocker, political sketcher, spice rack of flavor, history generator, and campaign creator–in 128 pages. In addition, the book provides additional character careers. And, to cap the triumph, it has systems for gaining power, dealing with a variety of internal and external threats, and ways to run a campaign that are more informing and liberating than most published scenarios I’ve seen!
This toolkit is passionately engaged with empowering stories. It’s got the same level of flavor and utility as Vornheim, on a vaster scale. I’m impressed.
This is one of those books where I look at it and wish I’d done it, it is something the creator and the company can be very proud to print over their names. I doff my cap to David Chart, the man who did the design and writing.
If you can get your hands on this book, do not hesitate. It is amazing.