Home > games, writing > Before Bogenhafen: My First WFRP Article

Before Bogenhafen: My First WFRP Article


Wfrp_logo

There was a time, when I first arrived at Games Workshop, when WFRP was still trying to find its own personality. The “Chaos spiky death” GW ethos had not yet been strongly established, even in the miniatures game. “Grimdark,” if we’d coined the word back then, would probably have been the name of an Orc warlord and not an approach to fantasy. Coop over at the Fighting Fantasist blog wrote a great article on this period of WFRP’s history a while ago, and you’ll find comments from me, Phil, and several fans. I tell you what, go and give it a read (or a re-read) right now. It’s worth getting your head around how things were back then. I’ll wait till you get back.

All clear? Good.

It was against this setting that I wrote my first article for WFRP. Orlygg over at the Realm of Chaos 80s blog just posted a copy of it, along with a very nice review and commentary.

At this point, all we really knew was that WFRP was going to be a British competitor for D&D. We knew what we didn’t like about D&D, but WFRP hadn’t really settled on the direction it would take with the Enemy Within campaign. So not surprisingly, On the Road wasn’t a prototype for Shadows Over Bogenhafen, or even for The Oldenhaller Contract.

It also wasn’t the first adventure published for WFRP. That distinction goes to Rick Priestley’s “The Web of Eldaw”, which was published in The Good Games Guide in the winter of 1985.

Good Games Guide Cover

The Good Games Guide was a one-off GW magazine/catalogue which clearly aimed to drum up trade in the run-up to Christmas. These days it’s something of a rarity. And as far as I know, it’s the first published mention anywhere of the game that would become WFRP. It’s certainly the first mention I ever saw. At the time I was struggling with a Ph.D. project (which I would later abandon) and writing a series of gamebooks along with articles for White Dwarf, Warlock, and the about-to-fold Imagine magazine. It would be another six months before GW invited me down to Nottingham for the first meeting that would lead to me working there.

“The Web of Eldaw” was a straightforward dungeon adventure using 2nd edition Warhammer Fantasy Battle. You can find a copy here, but it’s almost unknown today.

Equally obscure is “The Black Knight”, a Pendragon/D&D/WFRP adventure that appeared in WD83. Honestly, I have no memory of this one at all. The author’s name, Bryan Sturdy, looks suspiciously like a pseudonym. If Bryan Sturdy is a real person, though, it’s probable that someone in the Studio (most likely Jim or Phil, but possibly WD editor Mike Brunton) took a submission for Pendragon and D&D and bolted WFRP stats onto it.

white-dwarf-85

On the Road was published in WD85. I wrote it alone, outside of work time. If memory serves, we knew we needed magazine material for WFRP but there was no planned, co-ordinated effort to produce it, and during work hours all our time was spent racing the deadline for getting the rulebook ready for the printers. We had until the end of September, allowing a month for printing and getting the book into stores in November in time for Christmas.

I chose to write a couple of road encounters for three reasons. The first was that they are always a useful way to enliven a journey within a larger adventure. Secondly, I knew they would be fairly quick to write. And finally, I already had the ideas. In fact I’d had them for some time, although up to that point I hadn’t decided on a particular game for them. And this is where you get a slightly embarrassing insight into the workings of my mind back in the 80s.

I was listening to a lot of music back then, especially the prog-rock behemoths like Pink Floyd and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, but also the Dio-era Rainbow who made extensive use of sword-and-sorcery imagery in their songs. One of my first dungeons, back when DM-created dungeons were huge and ever-growing things with an infinite number of levels, was inspired by Pink Floyd songs (I cringe when I think of it now), and I had started to create another inspired by Rainbow and its predecessor Deep Purple Mk II-III. And yes, the Black Knight was a long way from home….

“Emmaretta” was inspired by a Deep Purple single I had picked up along the way. YouTube has copies of Emmaretta, and if you listen to the lyrics I think you can see how the storyline took shape in my mind. You can find printed lyrics here if you’re not fond of either Deep Purple or YouTube.

I honestly can’t remember what inspired “A Friend in Need.” It could very well have been an idea that I didn’t use in my Call of Cthulhu article on ghosts, “Haunters of the Dark,” which appeared the previous year in WD67. I never threw an idea away back then, and had pocket files bulging with scribbled notes and out-takes torn from various typescripts. It’s quite possible that I had started to write some adventure seeds to accompany the ghosts article, decided against it, and saved the ideas in case they came in useful for something else.

As you can see, then, On the Road was based on recycled ideas and written in a hurry to fill a need for magazine fodder, at a time when WFRP still didn’t really know what it was going to be when it grew up and there was no formal plan in place for developing magazine support. Because of that, I guess it says less about WFRP than it does about my thinking and methods at that time. I found inspiration all over the place, I never threw an idea away, and I was already showing a preference for story over hack-and-slash.

Orlygg is not blind to its faults, but he still manages to say some nice things about this throwaway little article. I’ll call that a win.

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  1. November 15, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    It was really interesting to learn about your influences for Emmaretta. I would never have considered there was a Deep Purple connection. You state that at the time WFRP had no overall direction, but you seem to have nailed its creeping horror first time with these early encounters. It still astonishes me that we can learn so much from articles that have lain dormant for nearly 30 years! Hopefully we can learn much more!

  2. kim
    November 15, 2014 at 2:03 pm

    mr. davis, you wrote that at the beginning you already knew what you didn’t like about d&d. what was that? could you try to sum it up in some way?

    • November 16, 2014 at 10:50 am

      It’s hard to put into a nutshell, but at that time a lot of people in the UK felt that D&D/AD&D was too “Hollywood” – shiny, heroic, clear moral choices, etc. PCs were usually strong enough to do whatever they wanted, which removed a whole range of possible challenges beyond monster-slaying.

      Also the game system couldn’t cover non-combat activities well, which gave it a bias toward hack-and-slash adventures. This failing was thrown into sharper relief when Call of Cthulhu was released in the early 80s – BRP is still one of the best RPG systems in my opinion.

      • kim
        November 16, 2014 at 11:30 am

        thank you. just one more question: do you feel that already tsr uk was geared towards different role-playing experience?

        also, you are one of ours (me, my friends and local rpg community) rpg heroes and wfrp is still for lot of us both the system and setting of choice.

  3. November 17, 2014 at 5:29 am

    I always thought these two encounters were great material – I used them almost as written (IIRC) when I ran the Enemy Within campaign. Small encounters like that really bring a world alive. E.g. the ghost that the PCs encounter really drives home the fact that there are ghosts in the world apart from the ones you have to slay as part of an adventure. Evocative stuff!

  4. November 17, 2014 at 9:36 am

    Kim: Yes, I think it was. A growing proportion of British roleplayers had been taking a different direction for a few years. Some of them even eschewed the term “roleplayers” and called themselves “rolegamers” instead.

    The rolegaming community was based around various fanzines and focused on talk and character play rather than dice-rolling and combat. They were quick to condemn any form of commercialism, and anything else that they felt compromised the artistic purity of the experience.

    While the staff of TSR UK was not a part of the “rolegaming” movement, almost every serious gamer in the UK was exposed to its ideas and influenced to some degree. And, of course, it wasn’t just “rolegamers” who felt dissatisfied with certain aspects of D&D. I don’t think that the team at TSR UK consciously set out to change the way D&D was played, but they certainly must have tried to create products that they themselves found more satisfying than the US imports.

  5. Hal
    November 19, 2014 at 12:29 pm

    It’s odd. I was aware of ‘The Web of Eldaw’ but ‘The Black Knight’ entirely passed me by despite the fact that I must have read it when it first came out. There was a bit of a fad for sticking WFRP stats onto adventures for other systems in WD at about this time, I seem to remember though. We had ‘Letters from a Foreign Land’ (?) which was for CoC and AD&D too, I think, and a Robin Hood adventure with WFRP stats too. Whilst not wholly successful I guess it was a way of supporting a GW game whilst still catering for other systems.

    Anyway, thanks for reminding me of times past and I’m now off to reread your ‘On the Road’ article – looking forward to it.

  6. November 22, 2014 at 11:27 am

    Graeme –
    Thanks for the insight into the good old days! And thanks for linking to my post of the text of the Web of Eldaw adventure – I’m sure you’ve given it a much higher profile than I ever could have.
    It’s not a perfect adventure, but it’s got some brilliant touches to it.

    For my own part, I sort of like the odd early days in 1st and 2nd edition Warhammer Fantasy Battle, when it was straddling being a miniature wargame and a roleplaying game. It resulted in some odd gems, like Blood on the Streets, or the Lichemaster.

    Matthew

  1. January 9, 2015 at 6:14 pm

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