Warhammer Fantasy Battle (1st Edition): A Review

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Warhammer Fantasy Battle (1st Edition): A Review

Post by Ashtagon » Sat May 06, 2017 4:55 pm

Warhammer Fantasy Battle (1st Edition)

This edition came out in 1983. The edition comprised a rules set (three booklets), a Forces of Fantasy supplement (also three booklets), and The Book of Battalions (free supplement put out by Games Workshop). Notably, the game is simply called "Warhammer". This early in the franchise's history, there was no reason to distinguish it from the various other games that have since been inspired by it.

Warhammer vol 1: Tabletop Battles

This book outlines the combat rules, and demonstrates the battle system that has become the cornerstone of GW's operations. Most of the later rules are already present, including movement, cavalry, terrain obstacles, combat (melee and ranged), psychology and morale, and so on. The totally-not-mithril special material is called "Mithric" in this rules set (and of course, "Mithral" in D&D 3rd edition). Surprisingly, the bok also includes rules for fighting battles (small ones, presumably) in dungeons, covering issues such as darkness and nightvision, cavalry and tunnels, and breaking down doors.

Early edition oditties include the following. Elves move a bit slower than in later editions (although still faster than regular humans). Instead of having a numerical Toughness score, that score is graded A-F, with F being the toughest. Instead of making a roll for routs (units breaking formation and fleeing), it is automatic on a certain number of consecutive push-backs in melee combat (2 for orcs, ranging up to 5 for dwarfs). Finally, the mental part of the statistics block seen in later editions of completely absent.

The bestiary includes another oddity - menfish as a species of intelligent creatures (slightly weaker than humans, with night vision, a fear of fire, and able to move over water terrain features without penalty). As with other games of this era, "balrogs" make an appearance under that name (the Warhammer ones would later morph into Khornate greater daemons and lose their fire-based spellcasting). This edition of Warhammer also featured dragons colour-coded for your convenience, with a suspicious similarity to the dragons of D&D.

Warhammer vol 2: Magic

In this edition, spellcasting is governed by three stats: Mastery, Constitution, and Life Energy. Mastery is a four-point scale which roughly corresponds to character level, and is the basis of how Warhammer would divide wizards' power in almost every edition since. Constitution is essentially spell points or mana. Life energy is a relatively unusual concept in gaming; it only really sees use in long-term campaign play.

Lost in the edition mill was a general ability to spend a spell point to sense all magical sources within 48" (as well as determine specifically if any magic is affecting himself). Wizards also have an ability to reflexively resist any spell cast that would affect them by spending half as many spell points as the spell took to cast (in D&D terms, this would be like allowing a caster to expend any memorised spell to dispel magic on the spell).

Fumble rules also exist, and are applied if the wizard tries to cast while injured, or casts a spell that is higher level than himself. These fumble rules are not worth importing into any other game. The book concludes with rules for specialist wizards (necromancers only), and a list of magic items (many of which deserve seeing the light in more modern RPGs).

Warhammer vol 3: Characters

This book tries to expand the battle system into an RPG of sorts. It would later form the inspiration for what WFB calls Characters (army generals, captains, and wizards). Oddly for a battle game, there is a random roll to get such skills as sailor ("can perform ship-board duties") transvestite, fisherman (no rules given for these), nomad ("knows where to find water in deserts, how to handle camels and extremes of temperature"), and others. This book introduces Warhammer's mental stats group (Leadership, Intelligence, Cool, and Will Power), but their use is wildly different from later editions.

The claim that this book also goes into detail on a wizard's Life Energy is unfortunately not supported. Typical scores for Life Energy are 1100 for humans, 1400 for elves and dwarfs (other races were not defined). However, beyond that, no information is given on how to use that number.

Forces of Fantasy vol 1:

In which we find army lists for the following:

Men of the East: Arabians, essentially. The later placement of Araby in the Warhammer world would obviously change this a bit. This list allowed for elephant and camel riders, dervishes (subject to frenzy), and eunuch warriors (immune to fear).

Men of the North: Vikings, essentially. This list features berserkers (subject to frenzy), and a general hatred of giants, love of alcohol, and slight resistance to fear.

Men of the Orient: not-Japanese, essentially. Features samurai (resistant to fear), kamikaze (subject to frenzy and a compulsion to enter melee), vim-to monks (named for a certain soft drink perhaps? Regardless, immune to fear, and also to magic)

Men of the West: Pseudo-Mediaeval Europeans, essentially. Features peasants (subject to stupidity), templars (subject to frenzy, hate non-westerner humans)

Dwarfs: Hate goblins and orcs, magically resistant.
Gnomes: Hate goblins

All elves can move through forests unimpeded by terrain.

Elves, Dark: "Witch Elves" were already a thing this early in the game. They ride cold-blooded lizards (called cold ones), which are subject to stupidity.

Elves, High: Hate goblins, orcs, and "night elves" (presumably the editor meant dark elves?). Cause fear in goblins.

Elves, Sea: In lore, they watch the western sea. For what? It's not like we have a world map yet. They would later be established as watching the western shores of Ulthuan (not-Atlantis) against the dark elves. Otherwise, same as for high elves.

Elves, Wood: Also the same as high elves in most essential aspects.

Giants: These come in three sizes. Small giants and giants are standard creatures with stat blocks. Large giants are more like mobile terrain features.

Great Goblins: Hate dwarfs, fear elves, animosity against their kin. Ride boars.

Night Goblins: As above, but they can choose to ride boars or wolves. Goblin Fanatics (wielding a suicidally-large ball and chain) are a thing.

Red Goblins: Same as great goblins, but wolves only; no boars. Very fond of wolves. In lore, these serve evil wizards, who may or may not still even be alive (or un-alive for that matter). They vanished from later editions.

Hobgoblins: Subject to frenzy, hate elves, animosity. Hobgoblin shamans have really big dogs called Hobhounds.

Orcs: Ride wolves, or occasionally a wyvern.

Cold Bloods, Lizardmen: Also featuring their larger, smellier, and stupider cousins the troglodytes. Some of them ride cold ones, which are stupid horse-sized lizards. Being cold-blooded, that somehow also makes them immune to most forms of morale, fear, and frenzy. There is no provision of any of these guys to have missile weapons, which is stupid. Cold ones apparently have a really good sense of smell, so they should logically want to stay well clear of troglodytes. That's not a rule though. This, too, is stupid.

Cold Bloods, Slann: Aztec Warrior Frogs! Also, "Lustria" gets name dropped. It's quite possibly the first named location on the entire Warhammer world. Unlike more recent editions, these slann are human-sized frogs, rather than the bloated palanquin-riders of recent editions. They also employ lobotomised eunuch slaves. They sometimes ride cold one horse-sized things, or command cold one dog-sized things. Either way, cold ones are stupid. They can move through water-based terrain without penalty.

Chaos: Featuring shoulder spikes of evil. Already Games Workshop was promoting their upcoming Realm of Chaos book (actually released five years and two game editions later). Beastmen were already a thing in this edition. Most of the rest of this list were various elites and unique monsters.

Undead: A fairly generic list of undead dudes, both physical and ethereal. Most cause fear, ghouls are poisonous, wraiths and wights drain strength. Unlike D&D, but like most editions of Warhammer, all undead are subject to instability. This means that any undead without a proper leader have a chance of doing stupid stuff, or vanishing into the aether, or just collapsing into a pile of dead-dead. This section also includes rules for fighting battles either around dawn or dusk, because a lot of undead units don't work during the day, and living armies don't like fighting at night. Interestingly, undead at night are never subject to instability, even if they lack proper "leadership".

Goodly Hosts are "Good" monsters. Marauders are "evil" monsters. These are what WFB 3rd edition would call auxiliaries, except they tend to be large monsters rather than regiments of human-sized folk.
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Re: Warhammer Fantasy Battle (1st Edition): A Review

Post by Big Mac » Sun May 07, 2017 5:42 pm

I only really played Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay once, so I don't think I'd go out and buy this (or a Print on Demand remake) but thanks for the overview.

Are menfish supposed to be the same thing as merfolk?

What is this four-point thing with Mastery? Is it supposed to be 25 percent per point?

I thought "Orient" and "East were the same thing. Sounds like they have no "Men of the South" (unless they were in a different book).

Giants come in three sizes. (In Games Workshop, that should probably be "Giants come in three prices: One week's pocket money, two weeks pocket money and ask your parents to buy you this one for your birthday." :-P )

The Red Goblins sound interesting. What race are the wizards they work with? Are they goblin wizards or human wizards?

The Slann sound like something that a Maztica fan could raid to use in Maztica. Have the minis for these changed over time? I'm not sure what a "bloated palanquin-rider" would look like. :?

I had a box of skeletons from Warhammer (I bought them to play with D&D) but lost them. I didn't realise they can just fall apart in daylight. Is there anything that explains how they continue to exist? Do they hide in caves or underground or something? And do undead try to sneak up on living people in the night and ambush them?

Are all undead based on humans in this edition of Warhammer, or do they have undead of other races (like the various goblins or Slann)?
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Re: Warhammer Fantasy Battle (1st Edition): A Review

Post by Ashtagon » Mon May 08, 2017 10:53 pm

The menfish were essentially aquatic humans. No illustrations were offered, although they were identified with Citadel Miniatures product C22/3. Googling that brings up this link. That's about as much as is known about them. They do not appear to have made it even to 2nd edition. However, there is a fan-made army list, the Nauticans, which covers the same general concept, althouh the special rules are compltely unrelated.

Regarding spellcasting, while D&D generally divides magic into nine levels, Warhammer divides it into four levels. They've created a bazillion different magic systems, but all editions of them basically boil down to four levels of magic-using ability, and usually have either a small single pool of spells, or a larger list divided into four levels.

In plain English, Orient and East are indeed the same. WFB 1e used them differently. Not much more to it than that. I guess it was their way of not name-dropping real countries, back when their campaign world wasn't yet fully detailed.

The red goblins never made it to 2nd edition, so there isn't really much to go on. The one illustration shows them wearing "generic Europe-based medieval barbarian" gear. I suspect in later editions, the red goblin lore got merged with the hobgoblin lore, creating the hobgoblin servants of the chaos dwarfs. But its equally possible the red goblins were entirely forgotten by later developers, who just decided to make the hobgoblin-chaos dwarf connection from scratch.

Slann in 1st edition through to 3rd edition were human-sized amphibians, vaguely reminiscent of D&D bullywugs. They were absent in 4th, but from 5th edition onwards they were the master race of a multi-species lizard empire, as 10-foot-tall bloated frog-men who spent most of their lives seated on self-mobile palanquins. 5th edition introduced a new race, the skinks, which were basicaly what 1st-3rd edition called slann.

Here's what the later version look like: Image

WFB 1e skeletons did indeed fall apart in sunlight. I guess undead armies marched at night, and found shelter in convenient buildings by day. That, or necromancers summoned them anew before a battle. All humanoid skeletons in 1e use basically the same stats, regardless of original species.
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