Armagideon Time

The first edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay was supported by a decent number of supplements, though the majority of these were campaign scenarios or one-off adventure modules. The few genuine expansions that did get released were odds ‘n’ sods collections of White Dwarf articles, and covered niche topics with limited utility for the game as a whole.

In contrast, WFRP’s second edition release was followed up by a host of bona fide sourcebooks designed to expand the scope of the game into previously uncharted territory. The flow of supplements posed a dilemma for me. I really wasn’t keen about burning cash on extras for a game I would never actually play, but the prospect of finally getting full write-ups for things that had been previously consigned to the realm of marginalia was oh-so-tempting.

I eventually hit upon a compromise where I’d limit my purchases to a handful of must-have sourcebooks, specifically the ones covering the lands of Bretonnia (Warhammer France) and Kislev (Warhammer Russia) which both included rosters of new region-appropriate careers for player characters. The bargain was merely the justification to take the first steps onto a very slippery slope. Since I bought those two books, I might as well by the one covering the monstrous creatures of the Warhammer World, right? And the one that expands the arcane magic rules? And the one dealing with the various religious sects and their divine gifts? And…well, the end results can be seen on the the bookshelf at the top of the our stairs.

One supplement I did restrain myself from picking up for a good while was the Tome of Corruption, covering the influence and effects of Chaos in the Warhammer realm. While the chunky, spiky iconography of axe-wielding Chaos Maurauders was responsible from pulling my younger self away from AD&D’s more traditional take on heroic fantasy, I never cared that much for the notion of Chaos as the primary in-game adversary. I freely dropped bits and pieces of it into my campaigns, but in the role of occasional adversaries rather than the existential threat faced by a doomed world.

The Warhammer take on Chaos felt a bit too over the top for me, and my adolescent self wouldn’t have understood the concept of restraint if it had bitten him in the ass. The game mechanics were lethal enough to induce dread among the players. Throwing the pervasive threat of physical corruption and ultimate futility just felt cruel, farcical, or both at once. I was already familiar with the cliched domains of the four major Chaos Gods and didn’t feel an urge to drop forty bucks on two hundred and fifty pages of further elucidation about that nonsense.

That was the gist of my response to a pal who’d also jumped on the second edition train and had asked if I was going to buy Tome of Corruption. Then he told me it included an entire chapter covering Warhammer’s Norse tribes, and my resistance was shattered. I couldn’t help it. My latent Scandinavian pride took over.

Tome of Corruption turned out to be my favorite of all the second edition supplements, and by far the one I’ve flipped through the most. The book was a direct homage to the old Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness sourcebook — a loosely organized assortment of tables, stats, and backmatter covering mutations, cursed artifacts, strange creatures and a daemonic host of other topics. Sidebars and callout boxes abound with ancillary material while the main text jumps from topic to topic with only the slimmest connecting threads. The quantifiable rules covering random weapon enchantments or chaos champion careers are somewhat orderly (despite several printing errors), but the fluff bits covering iconic locations or cursed works of art are simply crammed into wherever they might possibly fit. It can be confusing if you’re trying to locate a specific passage, but perfect for idle browsing.

The book tries to be as comprehensive as possible, which is a difficult task given Games Workshop’s ever-mutating franchise canon. References to fallow or out-of-favor factions and entities are presented with an odd vagueness which would be infuriating in other contexts, but only adds to the atmosphere.

And then there’s the Norse chapter, so well read that my copy of Tome of Corruption opens to it by default. The first edition Norse were simple Viking analogues who held the line against the Chaos hordes pouring down from the north. The second edition, drawing from developments in Warhammer Fantasy Battle lore, places them as occasional allies and frequent adversaries of the harried “civilized” lands of the Old World — an assortment of tribes who dwell in a harsh frozen land where natural laws are subject to the waxing and waning of Chaos’s influence.

Though Norse warbands raid alongside the rest of the Chaos hordes, their culture is presented with more nuance than Yet Another Evil Fantasy Race. They are violent yet adhering to individual codes of honor determined by tribal loyalties and a patheon consisting of Chaos gods, primal aspects of Old World deities, daemons, and ancestor spirits. It’s a realm where lycanthropy is common, reality is mutable, and resources are scarce. Norse society reflects this for both good and ill. It’s an intriguing take because it exists in opposition to the traditional Warhammer setting but not apart from it, where the atmosphere of lethal dread and corruption is embraced rather than feared.

I’m rambling about it because the chapter inspired my last serious itch to put together a WFRP campaign, one centered around a less fervent Norse community and the coastal villages it raided. Nothing came out of it (because the old crew have gone off on their own paths), but it was fun to feel that old spark again for a while.

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