Can it be any other than the first edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay?
John Sibbick’s iconic artwork and the production qualities of the 368-page fully illustrated hardback were simply a cut above anything else at the time. Even the chiselled typography (at least on the version I have) reinforces the earthy, low-fantasy setting. Humans are versatile enough to thrive. Dwarves are rugged enough to survive, but there’s no room for fay elves and jolly halflings on the front cover, even if they do exist in this place. Life’s just too tough.
Front and centre is the colourful and not-quite naked dwarf, plunging a critical strike deep into his greenskin enemy’s gullet. The quasi-teutonic plate-armoured warrior drives his sword into a callous-skinned ogre, who towers above this puny human while flailing a medieval torture ball. Rough-hewn blades glint in the fading light, chipped and bloodied to hint at the tarnished grimdark of the perilous Old World.
This is not a world of plenty, but it is one with splashes of mocking colour.
Lurking in the background, the wizard must still be an apprentice, reading as he is hastily from one of the many scrolls hanging out of his college robes. Maybe he’ll graduate one day. Or maybe he’ll choose to take up a different career that isn’t quite so perilous.
The visceral action takes place on the steps of a heavily inscribed temple. The altar by the binding still drips warm and bloody from a recent sacrifice. There’s more than a hint of organised cult, no doubt with powerful followers, at play – on this occasion fanatically loyal to the Blood God Khorne.
If these hapless adventurers survive – and that’s by no means a likelihood – to make it up towards the entrance on the back page, they’ll run straight into a relentless tide of greenskins serving a higher chaotic power. Orcs and gobbos hoist aloft their tribal banners – there’s hierarchy and faction in the inhuman order too. That not much separates the people and monsters is something you quickly discover in the Empire.
Then there’s trapper – another unlikely adventurer – that happens to be the last line of defence on the reverse. It’s not that he wanted to be a hero, he just found himself, well, in the wrong place at the wrong time. If he keeps them at bay, he certainly will be a hero. But realistically, life is grim, and he’s about to discover it will get a lot more grim before this scene is over, let alone when night falls.
I’ll gloss over the bats, but the rats deserve a mention. Because, well, rats. Keep the ratcatchers in good employ, they do, and more than the odd small but vicious dog. Everywhere they are, and you could go on a few travels just to root them out. The domestic variety, of course. I mean, what other sort is there? Certainly not small-person-sized, warped and twisted, lying low in the sewers under the great cities, waiting for the right moment to strike. An imperial taboo? No, no … you are mistaken … there’s nothing hidden in the shadows.