Sunday, January 15, 2012
Ode to Warhammer Quest
At a time when I'm sure lots of people are all a twitter about the next D&D I've decided to step out of the shadows with a short message about an old but brilliant game: Warhammer Quest.
Warhammer Quest is a special board/role-playing game hybrid - it is the culmination of the Hero Quest family. I think it is easily one of the most brilliant and simply delightful games I've ever played.
The WQ boxed set includes what you need to play the basic dungeon crawl game (no need for a GM), rules for expanding your game to brief wilderness and settlement scenarios which relate to advancing your characters from dungeon to dungeon, and finally, rules for transitioning into what is essentially a full rules-light role-playing game with a dungeon master.
The rules-as-written include a lot of use of figures and movement squares and small-tactics (much lighter than Desecent from Fantasy Flight or the new D&D board games - both of which I have played extensively and both of which I consider awful) but I think the game really shines without the use of figures and grid-maps.
WQ is so wonderful because it has a delightfully brutal, and yeah, even cliche sense of adventuring fun. You play adventurers on the make (notably the game avoids the word "hero") who are gathering their fortunes by delving into dungeons - true deathtraps, braving the sinister wilderness, all in order to make it into towns populated by chiselers, cheats, and other hazards of civilization in the hopes of getting enough gold to get to level 10 (yes, the only experience points are gold)!
The game maintains relatively unforgiving rules and restricts the sharing of treasure - creating wonderfully dangerous scenarios and some player-to-player mistrust without encouraging actual backstabbing. Also it should be mentioned that the danger levels of the dungeon scale well as your characters advance in level, making success always feel like a real accomplishment.
It is worth repeating that the game can evolve from a card-based event board game, to broader chart-based dilemmas with abstract wilderness and settlement events, to full-on RPG goodness - the cards and charts remaining great seeds for adventures and scenarios.
The game really shines in the danger and flavor of these random events (cards and charts). Playing the normal game, they really put pressure on the players and if strung together create an entertaining story. As creativity seeds they provide ideas for danger and adventure EVERYWHERE - which I think of as a crucial aspect of a good game.
My particular favorite is a chart to quickly and abstractly determine if and how successfully the characters flee from a dungeon (when it would be otherwise impossible to proceed or escape via normal game rules) - it creates hilarious "scene missing" moments with haggard and half-starved adventurers stumbling out of the dungeon with only a fraction of the gold they had gathered.
Sadly, WQ is a game very much out of print and complete copies go for fortunes on ebay... however I believe that PDFs of the materials can be found for free, and frankly I think the game is so marvelous that it is worth your while to track down a copy - check out the discussion at boardgamegeek...
There is a lot of old-school adventuring goodness in the "roleplay" book alone, and with just a few alterations the game can easily be played without minis and without a map.
So if you are looking for a deadly, interesting, and quirky mini-D&D game (which can be played rather quickly) or looking for some cool charts and game concepts to spice-up your RPG of choice, OR EVEN looking for a different rules-light RPG altogether, WQ is a must read.
Thanks for your time.