D&D in the Old World

The Warhammer setting – both 40k and fantasy – are both highly influential in my own homebrew campaign and have been since I first picked up the 1st edition fantasy roleplay book in 1987. There is a strong Warhammer streak running through all my games. If you look at the Iron God’s adventure path I turned the ship into a Rogue Trader and converted all the weapons and technology to Warhammer 40k equivalents.

Having said that I have never played an WFRP game (though I have played plenty of the minis game)but with such a rich setting it is a shame to see it so poorly supported over the years. Though I think both Green Ronin and Fantasy Flight Games made a valiant effort.

What tipped me over is the (relatively) recent Total War: Warhammer.  Playing through each faction really brings the world and the setting alive better than any game before it.  Mostly because of it is such a high-level view of the setting giving a very nice overview with just enough detail in the units and quests to flesh out the lore of each particular faction.So I started thinking about using the setting but with the D&D 5th edition ruleset. Here are my initial ideas.

So I started thinking about using the setting but with the D&D 5th edition ruleset. Here are my initial ideas.  Here is an organised presentation of my disorganised thoughts while playing Total War: Warhammer and reading through the (now defunct) 3rd edition Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay game from FFG.

– LORE –

The best source for lore that would be relevant to an Old World D&D setting would be one of the WFRP Roleplaying editions.  There have been three but I would argue the 2nd edition had the most useful setting information you can use to build the world.  There is also plenty of lore in the tabletop miniature supplements as well but it’s pretty scattered.  The RPG books from every edition are the most useful source IMO – one stop shop for the RPG details you need to flesh out the Old World.  You can also find most of this information on the web but it tends to be disjointed because of the nature of how its pot together in encyclopaedic form.

– SETTING –

The Old World is a grim and more realistic fantasy setting.  Much more akin to Greyhawk then any of the other settings in the D&D universe.  It is essentially a fantasy version of Renaissance Europe – even the map looks very similar.  All pluses in my mind.  There are two moons – Mannslieb & Morrslieb – which is another noticeable difference from Earth, otherwise,  I suspect most 14th Century humans from Earth would find the Old World very familiar.

The Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG) has a few optional rules which fit this setting well :

Low Magic Setting.  5e is already pretty low magic but the rule of thumb in WFRP is that the most powerful of heroes would have no more than 3 magic items.  And even this would be unusual.

Firearms and Explosives.  The Old World has technology equivalent to about the Renaissance level.  Use the Firearm rules on pg. 267 as a starting point.

Injury and Healing.  Combat hurts in the Old World and it can take weeks to recover from serious wounds.  Use the Slow Natural Healing and Gritty Realism Rest variants on DMG pg. 266 and 267.

Sanity.  Confronting the Ruinous Powers can permanently mar a hero with insanity.  Use the Sanity Ability Score on DMG pg. 265.

Corruption and Mutation. This is another pillar of the setting.  The Winds of Chaos cause corruption and mutation.  Each race would have a threshold of how much corruption they can take before they become chaos spawn and are handed over to the DM to become NPCs.  Humans are the most susceptible to this corrupting force while elves and dwarfs are the most resistant.  In fact, elves and dwarfs never suffer physical corruption but do suffer increase insanity instead.  I already have a mutation system that is suitable for the setting.  A fantasy suitable mechanism for becoming corrupt and then mutating is another matter.

Fate Points.  Having said that, heroes in the Old World are made of sterner stuff than a normal D&D character due to the harshness of the setting.  Use the Hero Point option on DMG pg. 264.

– COSMOLOGY AND GODS –

The setting has its own powers in the form of the gods and the Ruinous Powers – the ever present enemy of humanity and civilisation.  Most D&D settings fit into the cosmology of the D&D universe in some way.  There are two D&D cosmologies – The Great Wheel and the  World Axis.  You can use either but I would argue that the World Axis is the better fit.  This makes the Old World essentially the centre of the multiverse giving reason to the “Great Game” the Ruinous Powers play in trying to turn it into a realm of chaos.  The Ruinous Powers would easily fit into chaotic evil Primordials and the setting’s gods didn’t win the Dawnwar outright allowing the remaining Primordials a bit more of a free hand in the cosmos.

Or you could ignore it all and not worry about the rest of the D&D universes.  That works too.

One thing is that the gods in the Old World setting are all non-evil and actively working against the Ruinous Powers who are all chaotic and neutral evil and actively trying to destroy the world.  The Ruinous Powers are much more overt than the gods – though one could argue that the fact there is divine magic in the world is a big boon to the forces of Order.

– MAGIC –

Ahh magic.  This is a big one.  All magic is a manipulation of the Winds of Magic which are essentially generated by the Chaos Gate in the North Pole.  This makes magic inherently chaotic and dangerous.  A big part of being an arcane spell caster in the Old World is using magic without killing yourself (or others).  The only arcane caster that fits the bill right out of the Player’s Handbook (PHB) is the Wild Magic Sorcerer.  This would need an entirely separate article as the magic system would have to be changed to make it fit the setting well.  This is all further complicated by the fact that different races each have a different relationship and aptitude towards magic.

– RACES –

The Old World races are generally unchanged, mechanically, from those in the PHB.  However, they tend to have quite different view points than typical D&D fantasy races.  Only the following races are eligible to be used by player characters.

Men of the Empire (Humans).  The most susceptible to corruption but also the most versatile and potent magic users.  They are both the most effective force against Chaos and its greatest agents.

Dwarves (dawi).  The dwarf race does not have any arcane magic users of any kind.  They do have runepriests and runesmiths.  Essentially, dwarves, bond magic into runes and then applying those runes to items.  Dwarf rune magic never misfires.  The dwarf race comes from one of the many beleaguered dwarf holds.  They are also inherently magic resistant and so have the additional trait of magic resistance gaining advantage on saving throws vs magic effects.

Elves.  The elven race comes in three types – the Asrai (wood elves), the Asur (high elves) and the Druchii (dark elves) – of these, only the wood elves are native to the Old World. High elves are even rarer still and generally only visit the Old World on specific missions (like diplomacy).  Characters can play either type of elf though a High Elf will need a story reason to be away from Uthuan for an extended period.

Halflings.  Halflings are a small but dexterous race who look like Human children to the untrained eye. The fact that they cannot grow beards only reinforces this impression. Although they tend to be pot-bellied, since they eat twice as often as any other race, they are capable of great stealth. When combined with their well-known skill with the sling, Halflings can prove to be surprisingly stubborn opponents. They are, however, largely a peaceful people, content to farm, eat, and smoke pipe weed. They are proud of their families and all Halflings can recite their family lineage back ten generations or more. Much like the dwarves they have no arcane casters and are too irreligious to have divine casters as well.

Much like the dwarves they have no arcane casters and are too irreligious to have divine casters as well.  However, they are highly resistant to Chaos corruption in all its forms and gain advantage against corruption, madness and any kind of corrupting based spell attack.

– CLASSES –

Another big one as WFRP uses careers allowing, in D&D parlance, very easy multiclassing.  For now, the default D&D classes are fine as is.

– MONSTERS –

Any monster normally seen in the D&D world can be found in the Old World.  However, they would generally be much rarer or even unique creatures in the Old World.  While other creatures would be cast in a different way (like centigors/centaurs).  The key difference between a standard D&D campaign world – which tends to see monsters as part of the natural order – is that monsters in Warhammer are nearly always an expression of the underlying enemy – Chaos/Disorder.  Even the non-Chaos forces like the Vampire Counts and Greenskins are expressions of this by being focused on destruction.  This means the setting fits better in the Sword and Sorcery genre (Conan,

Before going into monster specific here is a little primer on monsters in the old world in broad strokes.The key difference between a standard D&D campaign world – which tends to see monsters as part of the natural order – is that monsters in Warhammer are nearly always an expression of the underlying enemy – Chaos/Disorder.  Even the non-Chaos forces like the Vampire Counts and Greenskins are expressions of this by being focused on destruction.  This means the setting fits better in the Sword and Sorcery genre (Conan,

The key difference between a standard D&D campaign world – which tends to see monsters as part of the natural order – is that monsters in Warhammer are nearly always an expression of the underlying enemy – Chaos/Disorder.  Even the non-Chaos forces like the Vampire Counts and Greenskins are expressions of this by being focused on destruction.  This means the setting fits better in the Sword and Sorcery genre (Conan, Fahfhrd and the Grey Mouser etc) than High Fantasy.  The characters don’t necessarily go on a hero’s journey, they fight disorder wherever it raises its ugly head, have a short respite, and do it all over again.  Just like in Beowulf an adventure is actually built around a single monster which is tailer made to be overcome by whatever means the characters use to overcome disorder (fighting for the fighter, magice for  the magic-user etc).  But just like Beowulf there shoudl always be a twist – kill Grendal then you have to enter the lair of Grendal’s mother and kill it – a far more dangerous task.  Keep that in mind when designing adventures and encounters in the Old World.

The characters don’t necessarily go on a hero’s journey, they fight disorder wherever it raises its ugly head, have a short respite, and do it all over again.  Just like in Beowulf an adventure is actually built around a single monster which is tailer made to be overcome by whatever means the characters use to overcome disorder (fighting for the fighter, magice for  the magic-user etc).  But just like Beowulf there shoudl always be a twist – kill Grendal then you have to enter the lair of Grendal’s mother and kill it – a far more dangerous task.  Keep that in mind when designing adventures and encounters in the Old World.

Beastmen.  Any animal/human hybrid monster in D&D fits this category.  This would include minotaurs, gnolls, centaurs, harpies and so on.  They are forces of Chaos and implacable foes of civilisation which they love despoiling.  Wood elves, in particular, hate them.

Greenskins.  This includes all orcs and goblins – basically, you can fit all goblinoids in this category.

Skaven.  This is a unique monstrous race to Warhammer and their really isn’t an equivalent in D&D.  However, just like there are always beastmen in the woods, there are always skavens in the sewers so you do, as a DM, have to make an effort to create something workable as a replacement.  You could conceivably re-badge kobolds as skaven with a little bit of work since they fit the same ecological niche and have similarities – small, fast multiplying, live in the underground, win by numbers and have a technical genius – kobolds with traps (which you can leave in there) and skaven with warpstone technology (guns, mutations, breeding etc).  For my Iron God’s campaign, I did a conversion of  Paizo’s ratfolk as they were in the first adventure and made them skaven – so more rat than the mouse Paizo seems to have in mind.  Here are the skaven scrapper and ogre.

Daemons.  Any and all fiends found in the D&D Monster Manual can be used as daemonic agents of the chaos gods.  The one catch is that they take a lot of effort to summon and they can only remain in the world for a certain amount of time before they are pulled back to the realm of chaos.  This can happen once their task is complete or they are killed – similar to normal D&D.  However, just being present in the Old World slowly saps them of power until they are no more.  This affects every daemon from the mightiest demon prince to the smallest imp.  To reflect this add the following trait to every fiend if it is in The World.

Daemonic Instability.  Each day the fiend spends in The World it must make a DC 10 Charisma saving throw.  Each time it fails it loses 1 HD worth of hit-points reducing its maximum hit-point total.  It can not regain these lost hit-points until it returns to the Realm of Chaos.  Pass or fail the DC of the saving throw increases by 1 for each day.

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