Even just looking at the cover, a reader who is familiar with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (WFRP) line of games is greeted with a tried and tested material: A group of gritty heroes in mortal combat against the mutated Rat-men that climb from the sewers of the Warhammer setting. If one sees the game in a store and doesn’t know much about Warhammer Fantasy this might not be the most inviting image, but at least adequately represents the “Grim World of Perilous Adventure” that the game promises.
But let’s get to the meat of the game: On its 352 pages, WFRP 4 manages to be a fantasy heart breaker while dodging most of the negative connotations of the term. Yes, it does have an occasionally complicated task resolution system based on percentile chance that is not particularly different from the first edition that was published back in the 80s. Yes, it does have a lengthy list of careers (what other RPGs might call “Classes”, only that “Rat Catcher” or “Coachman” are just as well represented as are Battle Wizards) and probably too many skills for players to spend points on. However, even if it might denigratingly be called a best-of of the three previous editions instead of a revolutionary new edition, WFRP does this particular job very right.
It addresses essentially all the problems of previous editions in elegant ways – the invulnerable-but-naked dwarfs of 1st edition, the hours-long combats where everyone missed of 2nd edition and the over-reliance on physical game aids of 3rd are all history. Together with a number of general quality of life upgrades that long term fans will notice (easier access to fan-favorite careers like the Witch Hunter without making them feel cheap, a magic system that works off the same principles as all other dice rolls) WFRP 4 is definitely worth a look for those who have been gaming in the world of Warhammer Fantasy for a long time.
For those who are only just getting into the grim and gritty world of Warhammer Fantasy, the game offers a surprisingly deep introduction into setting, although one very focused on getting across the “Heartlands” of it. This generally seems to be for the better, as even Gamemasters who do not know Warhammer Fantasy well will have ample help in the core rulebook to get its feel across, with the cost of not every last corner of the world being mentioned or detailed. This very feel could be one of the main draws of the system: Unlike the heroic fantasies invoked by D&D and its ilk, WFRP 4 does what WFRP has always done best: Telling the stories of ordinary humans, like bakers or nurses, who aren’t necessarily particularly heroic, but nonetheless have to rise to the challenge and defeat the monster of the week.
One caveat for newcomers however: It’s 352 pages and you will need to use most of that. WFRP 4 is a thoroughly recommendable effort at reviving the best parts of its predecessors, but it is nonetheless a labor of love based on a complicated rules system that will soon be 40 years old and wanted to be a simulator more than a particularly fast or easily understood game.