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.


  1. I always wanted to try WHQ when I was a lad, but I lacked the funds.

    A small consolation: I still do have a serviceable copy of Hero might even have some expansion sets thrown in there somewhere.

    This is the sort of game I dream of finding at a garage sale for a few bucks. Instead, I usually just find ugly sweaters, raggedy furniture, and baby dolls whose eyes follow me in a most unsettling fashion.

  2. Good god, enough cannot be written about Warhammer Quest and its brother Hero Quest. I absolutely adore them.

    One of my cousin's father had a well-loved box in the back of his closet, and the moment we found it, many an afternoon fell to its mysteries. That's Hero Quest, not Warhammer Quest, but I found out that HQ had a big, grown-up brother many years later and have always hoped to get my hands on a copy. Now THAT's a game that needs to be retro-cloned, if you ask me.

  3. WHQ owes such an unacknowledged debt to Classic D&D that it ain't even funny. The dungeoneering mechanics are a straight rip of B/X with some WFRP flavouring.

    Of course, by the time WHQ came out (the 90s) TSR had disowned dungeon-crawling, so, to the generation raised on it WHQ was 'the dungeon-crawling game' that D&D was supposed to be, but somehow wasn't.

    The XP system in WHQ is rather clever, in that you have to *spend* a block of gold all at once to reach the next level (IIRC 1st to 2nd was 2,000gp). So that's an additional level of emergent complexity to campaign gameplay right there; do you:

    a) spend gold between dungeons to accumulate equipment to enhance your survival chances?
    b) hoard every last gp in the hope of accumulating enough to rise a level (with all the expected benefits thereof)
    c) try to strike a balance between new gear and saving for advancement.

    But then WHQ is full of clever little mechanical gimmicks like that, the sort of things that are so intuitive and simply explained that it takes time to realise the sheer elegance of the mechanics.

  4. @Ryan - dl the pdfs. You won't regret it.

    @Wright - yeah, it really needs a re-release or cloning of some kind - I might work on some codified rules for playing without minis... but really that is a rather trivial task that anyone can do.

    @Chris - I think WHQ is a particularly wonderful distillation of classic D&D - and like you said it is full of clever and quirky rules - which I feel go above and beyond as far as reinforcing a sinister yet refreshingly classic dungeon crawl feel. That's why I love it and why I think it is relevant.

    Also, fwiw I think it is always a better idea to spend money on gear - as soon as your party levels up the monsters become tougher, so its better to gear up first... maybe not for the wizard (it is hard to pass up those power points and wounds).

  5. Warhammer Quest is always one of the first things to be mentioned when the rumours start about GW releasing a non-wargame, and that's because it's well-loved. It's one of the better games 90's GW put out, and I wish I had bought a copy back then.