A look at the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set from the perspective of a long time Warhammer fanboy.
This RPG Beginner box introduces new and old players to the fourth edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, a roleplaying game that I have been playing since the first edition.
Disclosure: This one was a gift from my wife, no review copy here. Links in this post may be affiliate links. As an Amazon affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Using these links doesn’t cost you anything extra and helps support this blog and our podcast.
What is the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set?
Like many RPGs, the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set had quite the team behind it.
Designers include Andrew Law, Lindsay Law , Andrew Leask, T.S. Luikart and Dominic McDowall with production by Paul Bourne, Andrew Law, Dominic McDowall, Síne Quinn and Jacob Rodgers. Fantastic thematic artwork was provided by Paul Bourne, Michael Franchina, Ralph Horsley, Andrew Law, Sam Manley, Janine van Moosel, Jonathan O’Donoghue, Scott Purdy and Erin Rea.
This latest introduction to Warhammer is published here in North America by Cubicle 7 under licence from Games Workshop. It was originally released in 2018 and has an MSRP of €25.99 (and prices seem to range here in North America from just under $30 to over $45).
For those that don’t know anything about Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, it’s a grim, dark, fantasy roleplaying game set in the Old World which has a distinctly different flavour from your typical high fantasy RPG.
Warhammer isn’t about playing heroes. It’s about playing a regular citizen in a world that is filled with corruption and is constantly threatened by outside influences including the forces of the ever present Gods of Chaos. This is a game about surviving the day and not about saving the world. While there are threats like undead and marauding orcs, the true horrors come from the people themselves, from the corruption within and the power behind the throne.
As for this starter set, it contains everything you need to bring this grim and perilous world to life and is targeted at both new and experienced RPG players, as well as long time fans of Warhammer. Of note to those fans, this box goes back to the traditional D100 mechanics of Warhammer first and second edition.
For a look at what you get in this box, I invite you to check out my Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set Unboxing video on YouTube.
The Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set includes a sturdy board game quality box, which also serves as both a GM screen and a dice tray featuring a map of the Old World. Inside the box, you will find a small Read This First booklet, The Adventure Book which is designed to teach you the game, a Guide to Ubsereik which is an extensive sourcebook showcasing one of The Empire’s most important cities, maps of Ubersriek and the surrounded region, six character folders, various reference sheets, advantage tokens, 2d10 dice and some handouts. What follows is a detailed look at each of these components, letting you know exactly what you get and my thoughts on each. After that, I share my overall thoughts on this new Warhammer RPG beginner box.
What do you get in the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set?
The most logical place to start when talking about the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set is the box itself. Normally I don’t really talk about starter set boxes but this one stands out as exceptional.
First off, it’s extremely thick and sturdy. It’s a board game quality box, one that I don’t have to worry about standing the test of time. Unlike many RPG boxed sets, this isn’t going to get crushed sitting on my shelf even if I stack things on top of it.
In addition, the inside of the box is also notable as the lid includes reference information and acts as a GM screen. This is combined with the bottom of the box which has a map of the Old World printed on it. When you place the lid upright inside the bottom of the box it basically forms a combination of dice tray and screen.
I think this is an awesome way to use the box for any RPG starter set. I first saw this in The One Ring Starter Set from Free League, and I don’t know who did it first but I do hope this becomes a trend.
Read This First Pamphlet
Next, we have the ‘Read This First’ pamphlet thingy. I say thingy because this document (as well as all of the character sheets) are in this odd three fold folder format where you have to open up the two sides to see what’s inside. It’s an odd design choice that I’ve never seen before.
Besides this odd, but I guess thematic, or at least interesting, design choice, I just love that the publisher included this “Read First” sheet. I hate when I open a starter set and have no idea where to start.
This pamphlet is where you will find your typical intro to RPGs stuff like, “What is an RPG?”, “What’s a GM?”, etc. Then it points you to what you should be reading or doing next depending on if you are going to be a player or the game master.
The Adventure Book
Next, we have The Adventure Book. This is a forty-seven page softcover book that features a multi-act adventure that teaches you how to play Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Fourth Edition.
The adventure presents a great example of the Warhammer setting and the types of stories the designers expect you to tell in this world. It also does a great job of showcasing how this game is not your typical fantasy Roleplaying Game.
In addition to the main adventure, this book also includes ten short adventures set in Ubersreik that you can use to keep playing once done the full story, use with the full Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying Fourth Edition rules, or integrate into the main adventure to stretch it out and make it more interesting.
This adventure book is the meat of this boxed set.
What I found the most interesting is that this book doesn’t present you with the rules first. Actually, there is no rules section here at all. The designers of this RPG beginner box expect you to just jump right in with the adventure which starts during one of Ubersriek’s big market days and festivals. Players get to learn the mechanics of making simple, dramatic and opposed tests while exploring the market and then get to test out more rules as things inevitably get more interesting.
While I love this format for getting the game to the table quickly, and it’s a great way to onboard players, it’s terrible as a reference. Going through the book page by page as you explore the game works great, but when you are a couple of sessions in and need to remember exactly how critical hits work, it’s not easy to find that information by looking in this book. The fact the book doesn’t include an index just adds to the frustration.
Along with this, there are some rules that aren’t introduced in this book at all. Now I’m not talking about things from the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Core Rulebook. This is a starter set after all and does not include the full game rules (the most notable omission being character creation), what I mean is there are rules that you will use during play which aren’t in this book but rather introduced via, and also only listed on, the character sheets.
This seemed like an odd choice to me. As a games master, I would have liked some kind of Important Rules of Warhammer chapter or something in this book, maybe at the end after the additional encounters.
The Warhammer Fourth Edition Rules as Introduced in this Starter Set
Since the mechanics of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Fourth Edition are introduced in The Adventure Book I figured I would take a short diversion to introduce you to those rules and how they compare with classic Warhammer rulesets.
This newest version of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay goes back to the roots of the familiar stats of M (Move), WS (Weapon Skill), BS (Ballistics Skill), S (Strength), T (Toughness), I (Initiative), Ag (Agility), Dex (Dexterity), Int (Intelligence) , WP (Will Power), Fel (Fellowship) and W (Wounds). It uses a D100, percentile, roll under, system just like first and second editions of WHFRP.
A big change here from the original systems is that the game has become skill based for non-combat tasks. Instead of rolling under a stat, you roll under a skill number that is based on a stat.
Another big one is that melee combat is now an opposed roll of WS vs dodge skill. There are other minor changes as well, like all stats being out of one hundred instead of some being out of ten. Your Strength bonus, which is added to damage, is just the tens digit of your total Strength score.
Tests in the game are divided into Simple, Dramatic and Opposed.
Simple tests are, well, simple. If you roll equal to or under your target number you succeed and if you roll over, you fail.
Dramatic tests are a bit more involved. You make your roll, the same as a simple test, but then have to determine your success level (SL). To do this you subtract the tens digit of the number you rolled from the tens digit of the target. You then look up the result on a table.
That table is where you get all of your modern “Yes and…”, “Yes but..”, “No and…” style of results. I found it interesting that on a Dramatic Test you need to get at least a +2 SL for a full success without any complications. This should lead to lots of interesting complications coming up in play, which is something I think that may be inspired by how third edition Warhammer played at the table.
Finally, we have Opposed Tests, where both parties roll and compare success levels and the one with the higher level succeeds. Most Opposed Tests test different stats and skills vs. each other, like WS vs Dodge for a melee attack. Interestingly, you don’t actually have to pass your roll to win an opposed test, which I like. In combat, this should reduce Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay’s notorious whiff factor at low levels.
Along with these basic rules, there are of course systems for adjusting difficulties based on circumstances, favourable conditions, having the right tools, etc.
Combat mechanics have additional details such as foes acting in order of initiative stat (no rolls made), melee requiring an Opposed test, ballistic attacks needing a Dramatic test, and more. Damage is based on weapon type, Success Level and Strength Bonus. Just like classic Warhammer any resulting damage is reduced by armour and Toughness and any damage not prevented causes a loss of Wounds. This new system even brings back the old hit location system where you reverse the numbers on your attack roll to see where you hit.
All of these rules should seem a bit different, but not unfamiliar, to long time Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay fans.
One of the new things introduced here is various resources that players can use to mitigate the randomness of the die rolls.
First, there’s the traditional Fate Point system that’s been around since 1e that lets you avoid death. The new edition also introduces Fortune, which is based on your Fate total. Fortune replenishes each session and allows you to re-roll a test or add a success level to a roll.
There is also Resilience, which lets you set the dice to whatever number you wish, and Resolve, which lets you remove a condition or ignore a crit. Resolve, which is based on Resilience, can be replenished by following your character’s motivation, but Resilience, once spent, is gone forever.
Finally, there’s one other new mechanic that I really dig and that’s Advantage.
Advantage is a momentum system that affects and will speed up combat. Every time you attack a surprised opponent, charge into combat, defeat an important NPC, win an opposed test, or cause damage without using an opposed test, you get to take an Advantage Token. Each token you have gives you +10 to all combat actions going forward.
You can continue to build up Advantage round after round until you either take a wound or lose an opposed test, in which case you lose all of the tokens you have accumulated.
Note this is just an overview of the mechanics introduced in this boxed set, a broad look at how things work in general without getting into specific details and minutia. Also, realize that even more rules and mechanics are included in the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Core Box. This is an RPG beginner box after all and no one should expect a full rule system from one of those.
A Guide to Ubersreik
The biggest book in the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set is A Guide to Ubersreik. This is a thick softcover book clocking in at a big sixty-four pages.
It includes the history of the city of Ubersreik, starting from its founding and going up to the present day where there’s a big power vacuum as the rulers of the town were recently displaced by the Emperor himself. Soldiers from the capital of Altdorf patrol the streets alongside the town guard and watch while various factions work to become the new rulers of this fortress city.
The book continues on to become a district by district guide of the town, including a ton of detail. While you won’t find a description of every street and house, seventy different locations are fleshed out. This includes background information, detailed descriptions, maps and stat blocks where applicable. Each entry also includes at least two adventure seeds which can be used to flesh out the included main adventure or for inspiration for future games.
This is the kind of splat book I expect when I see Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay on the cover, a rather thick tome just filled with details, goings on, and background information. The odd part to me here is that this book is in this starter set.
A Guide to Ubersreik feels like a stand alone product.
Reinforcing that feeling is the fact that many of the stat blocks, and other rule call outs in this book require the full Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Core rules to be used properly. This book is a stand alone Ubersreik sourcebook for the full game that just happens to come in this starter box.
This book alone may be enough reason for a group that’s already playing the fourth edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay to pick up this set. But, if you are someone new to Warhammer I think this book could be overwhelming.
There are so many facts and small details in here. A staple of Warhammer adventures over the years has been presenting things “as they are” and leaving it up to the GM and players to determine how the players’ interaction changes things. That’s what this book is, a ton of details of how things are right now in Ubersriek.
While long time Warhammer fans are going to be used to information presented this way, I think it may scare away players who are used to a more scripted linear presentation where you are told here’s what the players are expected to do.
Even as a long time Warhammer fan this book took me quite some time to get through. That said, I think it’s great that it’s here and when I run the main adventure in The Adventure Book I will definitely be referencing this book to make that adventure feel more real and to add in additional twists to make it more interesting and unique.
The Character Sheets in The Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set
Up next we have the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set character sheets. There are six of these, and each has a character overview on the cover that answers questions like “Who is this?”, “What are they like?”, and “Why play them?”. The reason for this overview is that no one, with the exception of the GM, is meant to open these before play starts, which I thought was interesting.
Once you open the folded character sheet you will find a fully filled out character sheet, with some rule explanations on one side and character background on the other, plus some secret stuff that is meant to increase player interaction during the game.
These sheets use the same odd three fold system as the Read this First sheet.
The character sheet itself is going to look different but familiar to long time Warhammer fans. I love the background information on the side, which includes some great story game elements like motivations, group ties and secrets. While these sheets are designed to be played with, including lots of room for taking notes, tracking coins and variable stats, I’m pretty sure I’m going to make everyone use a separate sheet of scrap paper. Normally I would consider laminating the character sheets or using sheet protectors but that doesn’t work due to the odd three fold format used here.
The characters themselves are quite varied and not your typical set of Warhammer characters. There’s Else the Witchhunter, Molrella the Halfling Thief, Gunnar the Dwarf Slayer (you know they had to include a Slayer), Salundra the Soldier, Ferdinarnd the Wizard (of the Amythst collage, a.k.a. a death wizard instead of your typical fire wizard, which is a cool choice), and Amris the High Elf Merchant.
Overall I think this is a great selection of characters, one which does a good job of showing off the diversity of character choices in Warhammer. However, I’m a bit disappointed with how the particular career choices used make this feel like a pretty typical fantasy RPG group, which is actually quite uncommon in the Warhammer editions of the past.
Well, that’s it for the main things you get in this box. The rest of the stuff is really here to supplement what I’ve already discussed.
The Maps included with The Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set
The set includes two double sided maps on thick cardstock. One is meant for the GM and the other for the players.
Both show a map of Ubersreik and its districts on one side and the region surrounding the city (the Dutch of Ubersreik) on the other. The GM map varies by having a legend and by calling out all seventy of the locations highlighted in the guide to Ubersreik.
While these maps are a nice addition they are quite small. I would have preferred larger fold out maps, or even better cloth maps. With the size they are, you could run into a problem where players will not be able to read the maps from across the table.
There’s also one more map, which is located in the bottom of the box. This one shows a section of The Empire, the region of the Old World most Warhammer adventures are focused on. As noted earlier, the bottom of the box, with this map in it, combines with the box lid to also form a dice tray.
Reference Sheets in the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set
The set also includes a few reference sheets. There are three of these, two of which are double sided. Here is where you find the rules for playing Warahmmer Fantasy Roleplay Fourth Edition.
There’s a Tests Sheet, which goes through the three test types, an Attributes and Skills Reference Sheet, which explains what all of the characteristics and skills cover, and an Injury Reference Sheet, which describes wounds, healing and critical hits. There is also a Combat Reference Sheet, which gives you all of the rules for combat in one place including the rules for Advantage, and a Conditions Reference Sheet, which covers various conditions, how you gain them and how to get rid of them. Finally, there’s an introduction to Ubersreik and The Empire which is something that each player should read over to get an idea of the setting in which their adventures will take place.
My big complaint here is that these sheets should have been better called out on the Read Me First sheet. I would have loved to have these sitting out on the table while reading The Adventure Book.
All of my issues regarding the lack of an index and the difficulties with using The Adventure Book for reference are alleviated by these sheets. So, take this as a lesson future Warhammer GMs, don’t worry about looking stuff up in The Adventure Book, just reference these sheets.
Each of these Reference Sheets is well written and very clear. I think the most shocking part to me was that you can basically fit all of the mechanical rules in this box onto five pages.
Advantage Tokens in The Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set
Next, we have a cardboard punch board containing Advantage Tokens. There are six tokens for each character, in six different colours, and thirteen white tokens for the Game Master.
If you watched my Warhammer Starter Set unboxing video you would have seen my disappointment with these.
The colours on these are so subtle and similar to each other that even people with perfect vision are going to be hard pressed to tell some of them apart.
The thing that I didn’t know when recording that video, is that it doesn’t really matter.
While yes, it is nice that each character can have a set in their own tokens, colour doesn’t matter at all. These are just used to track if you have advantage and how much of it you have.
The Dice that come with the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set
My other complaint during the unboxing was with the dice, and I will still stand by what I said in the video.
While these dice are cool looking they are far too busy and hard to read, especially across the game table.
To me they fail one of the main qualities dice need to be good: they need to be random and readable. While these dice seem to be random enough, they are definitely not clearly readable. These dice were my biggest disappointment with this Warhammer beginner box.
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set Player Handouts
Lastly, we have some handouts. There are seven of these, though six of them are going to need to be cut out before they can be used.
The first six handouts are rumours that are given out to the players before you start playing. They are meant to spark conversation and roleplay before the main adventure gets going. As expected some of these will be true and hint at what’s to come while others are just there to add flavour.
The final handout is a shopping sheet that explains how money works in Warhammer and provides a short trappings list. This is something that is not included in The Adventure Book but which is given out very early in the main adventure.
Unfortunately for some, Warhammer 4e has stuck with the somewhat annoying coinage system of one Gold equals twenty Silver and one Silver equals twelve Copper. While I guess this is thematic and nostalgic for long time Warhammer fans, I do prefer base ten coinage systems for ease of play.
The equipment list here is pretty bare-bones and it’s noted right on the sheet there’s way more stuff to buy in the Warhammer 4e core book.
Final thoughts on the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set
Physically, the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set is a beautiful RPG boxed set. It comes in a very sturdy box, one that I don’t have to worry will collapse while stored on my game shelf. The books are all well bound, full colour, easy to read, and filled with some really great Warhammer artwork. Even the dice look great, though their functionality leaves something to be desired.
It’s the functionality of this entire set that gives me a bit of a pause. As an experienced Warhammer player, one who’s been around since the first edition, this is a fantastic new Warhammer product that is perfect for diving back into the Old World and learning the mechanical changes brought in for Warhammer 4e.
Speaking of these mechanical changes, everything here was a welcome change or addition to me. I was very pleased to see many new gameplay elements and sub system added in to address long time problems with Warhammer’s d100 roll-under system. I love seeing modern storytelling elements added to a traditional game like this.
Where I’m not sure about this RPG beginner box is with how well it would work for players who aren’t long term fans of Warhammer.
While I think most players coming to this from another RPG, especially a fantasy RPG, may be in for a bit of a shock with the types of stories you are expected to tell with Warhammer, and the fact that you aren’t actually playing heroes, I think the rules and mechanics should be easy enough to pick up. For these groups I think just playing through The Adventure Book should work great for both teaching the game and for establishing the general tone of a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay game.
However, I worry that for brand new players, those that are totally new to RPGs, this box is going to be too much.
The main adventure is well written, but it’s not a straightforward “read the box” style adventure. It starts off linear but quickly branches out into letting the players do what they want as they explore the city of Ubersriek and that’s going to be hard for a new GM to handle.
While there is some GM advice in the adventure book it’s pretty sparse. I can’t imagine reading through The Guide to Ubersreik as a brand new GM and not being completely overwhelmed.
That book in particular seems to be written specifically for people planning on diving deeper into the world of Warhammer or for groups who already have the Warhammer 4e core book.
All that said, I am not a new player, or new to Warhammer, so that’s all speculation. Maybe I am wrong and this boxed set gives you exactly what a new group needs, but compared to other starter sets I’ve read and reviewed recently this one seems too meaty and dense for a brand new group, assuming they are going to try to use everything in the box right from the start.
Overall I think this is a great box for Warhammer fans looking to get back into Warhammer and check out the latest edition. This particular version of the game is going to appeal to fans of the first and second editions, due to the fact that the mechanics will be familiar though they have been modernized. Along with that the flavour and tone go back to the dark humour of 1st edition.
I also think this is a worthwhile box to pick up if you already own and may even be playing Warhammer 4e. There’s a ton of great information about Ubsereik here, including a ton of adventure hooks and ten short adventures. That alone seems like it could justify the price point of this box even if you don’t plan on using the progenerated characters or running the main adventure from The Adventure Book.
Finally, I think this box would be a good choice for groups who play other RPGs, especially fantasy ones, who are looking to check out Warhammer for the first time.
Where I’m on the fence with this particular RPG starter set is for groups totally new to roleplaying. Though, who knows? I mean, I learned Warhammer by reading the original first edition, which is a massive tome, back when I was only twelve years old and surely learning the game from this boxed set has to be easier than that. The Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set could be the perfect start to a life long love of roleplaying for some group out there.
If you dig RPG Starter sets as much as I do, be sure to check out these other reviews where I give you the break down on some other RPG beginner boxes: