Tuesday, 12 August 2008

FAL Interview: Wim van Gruisen, Fanatical Editor

One of the many things WFRP is known for is its fans. Some are fans of the first edition, some are fans of the second edition. Some are just fans of WFRP. That's how I think of Wim van Gruisen, a lauded writer of fan published scenarios and, together with Henrik Grönberg and Jude Hornborg, one of the movers and shakers behind the terrific fan publication Liber Fanatica.

I first took notice of Wim and his co-conspirators with the initial release of Liber Fanatica, and I immediately identified with the idea of fan material building bridges between the two editions that was expressed there. After that I eagerly perused the follow-up releases of the LF, and followed Wim's posts under the moniker of Whymme, on the Black Industries forums and now on the FFG forums. His posts are often thoughtful, constructive, and I have a feeling Wim is always trying to see several sides to an issue, avoiding to be locked up in one interpretation of rules or background.

The Altdorf Correspondent (TAC): Tell the readers a bit about yourself.

Wim van Gruisen (Whymme): I live in Maastricht, the Netherlands. A nice old town with lots of history, which is quite inspiring for games like WFRP. :-) I've been gaming for almost twenty years now, but have become active in fandom only recently. Mostly WFRP, but I've done some stuff for games like Cyberpunk and Over the Edge as well. Somewhere in the back of my head and buried deep in the files in my computer are some ideas to write my own RPG as well.

TAC: How and why did you start playing WFRP?

Whymme: WFRP was the first real RPG I ever encountered, really. A few years before I had found a series of "Choose your own adventure" books, somewhat like the Fighting Fantasy series, but the Bloodsword books (which you can still download from here) were better written and had a unique feature; you could play it with up to four persons, in four different roles. Anyway, back then RPGs were very unknown in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe. I found a very used WFRP rulebook in the second-hand section of an English bookstore in Amsterdam, bought it, and was hooked. Wrote my first adventure not much later, and it was a terrible railroad. Back at the time you couldn't find any of those funny shaped dice; the first few sessions we played, we had a table that converted 3d6 rolls into d100 results, until I ran across some polyhedral dice in a toy store in Luxemburg. Really, back in the day I had to scrounge my RPG necessities from anywhere I could get them.

TAC: What was it that primarily attracted you to WFRP?

Whymme: Availability, mainly. As you might have gathered from the story above, RPGs were not really a dime a dozen at the time. After I got my WFRP books, some copies of D&D adventures and "Das Schwarze Auge", both translated into Dutch, began appearing in Dutch toy stores, but they didn't really become a great success. I only learned more about RPGs when I went to the UK for three months as part of a student exchange program. I saw that more games existed, found out about White Dwarf (which had just started publishing their legendary Marienburg stuff), and bought my second RPG - Cyberpunk 2020. Looking back, I don't think that it is a coincidence that my first two RPGs both were so grim and gritty.

TAC: Any other roleplaying games that you enjoy?

Whymme: There are lots of good, almost perfect RPGs around. I have some of them here, on my shelves, but I doubt that I'd ever play them. I like Ars Magica for the interesting setting (our medieval world, but with the legends being true) and the great magic system. Pendragon for the evocative Arthurian setting (sorry, but Knights of the Grail just doesn't cut it). Amber for showing me new possibilities to play and to GM, and Feng Shui to a lesser extent similarly. Blue Planet and GURPS Transhuman Space are brilliant SF settings, and Over the Edge is a great rules-light, story-focused game, and I'd love to run a campaign one time using that system, and a setting fueled by GURPS Voodoo, GURPS CABAL, GURPS Illuminati, and so on.

But ultimately, a game is as good as the players it gets. The most brilliant setting and game mechanics get dulled if played by an uninspired group, while a good group will have fun playing almost anything.

TAC: Tell us a bit about the Liber Fanatica project.

Whymme: Well, it's lots of fun. What more do you want to know?

TAC: What prompted the creation of LF?

Whymme: The playtest for version 2, really. That playtest, the way it was set up and executed, is a story in itself. But in the end, we playtesters were presented a final version of the rules as they were going to be, and a number of us were not really satisfied with that. During the playtest Henrik Grönberg and I often found ourselves having the same opinions on issues, and we started showing each other alternate rules that we'd written. And we decided to work together on a set of additional and alternative rules and comments.

Jude Hornborg, Herr Arnulfe on the forums, had presented a cool article during the playtests. Henrik and I liked it a lot, and we asked Jude permission to use that article and invited him to join us. He accepted and became the third member of the group.

Some others wanted to cooperate as well, and joined, but several dropped out again. We ended up with four members, the fourth one being James Walkerdine, who is mostly responsible for our lay-out.

TAC: How hard is it to get people to contribute to LF?

Whymme: Well, LF VI is really the first time where we are actively looking for people to write new stuff. Much more often we have decided on a theme and we find that people are already presenting ideas on the internet that fit that theme. And so we ask them for permission to use those ideas in our issues. And most of the time they have no objection, and are happy to have an outlet for their ideas, to see it being published.

LF V, as you probably know, will present a detailed overview of Wurtbad, the finest city in the Empire. The next issue will have a number of adventures set in that city. Mainly Cthulhu-like investigative/horror scenarios (a type of adventure that has been neglected so far). And we are open for people who would like to contribute such a scenario. Anyone who would like to write such a scenario for LF VI can contact me.

TAC: Are there any other creations of yours that you are especially proud of?

Whymme: Well, I like my WFRP website. And the adventures that I've written; I've written and mastered two scenarios for TimCon (the world's largest roleplaying convention that is wholly dedicated to WFRP - there are about twenty participants each year) which both have been great successes, and a third scenario has been runner-up in last year's scenario competition.

TAC: What's the advantages and disadvantages of creating fan material?

Whymme: The advantage is that you can share your ideas with a larger group of fans. And if they tell you that they like what you've done, it's quite an ego boost :-)
The main disadvantage is the time it costs. When I write something and get it ready for publication, I want it not only to be a good idea, but also well executed, with pretty pictures, good writing, spiffy lay-out. And that only adds to the time.

TAC: A catchphrase of WFRP is "Grim'n Gritty". What does this mean to you, and how does this influence your game?

Whymme: I think that this is a bit overblown, really. Some people make it seem like WFRP is all about blood and mud and grit, everyone's poor and it's raining all the time, and your favourite pet just died or mutated into some Chaos monster. I see WFRP generally as quite a bit lighter and more optimistic than that. It is just not a game for ancient Greek style of heroes, people who are clearly superior to normal people and who eat giants and three-headed hydra's for breakfast. My standard WFRP is about people who try to make a living, but in doing so get hindered by all sorts of problems and inconveniences that, looking back years later, can be described as 'adventures'. I'm not a big fan of the idea proposed in the rulebook (both in first and second edition) that the PCs are ex-ratcatchers, tradesmen, and so on, who willingly stop doing what they did for a living and instead voluntarily go looking for the discomfort and danger that is referred to as "adventure". People who willingly do that, giving up their daily life in order to get into mortal situations, should start the game with more than a few insanity points, IMHO. Notwithstanding what I said at the beginning of this paragraph, the Warhammer world is still one where death is cheap and omnipresent, and you'd be a fool to look it up out of boredom.

One important part of WFRP is the humor. Or at least, it used to be so in the first edition. There were those awful puns, but also some great situations like a goblin wearing the dress and jewelry of a sorceress, thinking that they'd give him magic power. It was great to describe the scene when the PCs ran into this transvestite goblin waving his hands and muttering an arcane language. This humor is something I miss in much of the second edition.

TAC: How much humour do you inject into you WFRP game, and how do you do it?

Whymme: The amount of humour depends on the game and the players. Most of the games I run tend to have a lot of humour in them, but a large part of that comes from the players. A GM shouldn't be funny; he should present the opportunity for the players to be funny. The GM shouldn't present a clown throwing cream pies; he should just tell the PCs that there is a table with cream pies and wait until they start throwing.

I admit a weakness for puns and for obscure (and not so obscure) references, though. There are usually a lot of those in my scenarios. "Arrows of Outrageous Fortune" has a bookmaker called Wilhelm Hügel - that is a direct translation of William Hill, the UK betting agent. That scenario was rife with silly names like that. I toned things down quite a bit for "The Legend of Wolfgang von Horn", but I couldn't resist naming the bard Robert Zimmermann. If you don't see why that is funny (or, well, groanworthy), google for the name.

TAC: What is your favourite WFRP book (any edition)?

Whymme: Difficult question. There are a number of good books; for WFRP1 I love the first three parts of the TEW setting, and the Marienburg sourcebook is a thing of wonder. Second edition ... I think that I'd go with both the Tome of Corruption and the Tome of Salvation. They do an excellent job in deepening the WFRP world. That said, Sigmar's Heirs is very good as well; I think that it loses a few points for not including maps of the regions it describes.

There are a number of other good books on my shelf, but I haven't read them all yet. Books like Children of the Horned Rat or Realm of the Ice Queen look like they're good, but they cover a rather specialised part of the setting, and as long as my group doesn't go there, the information just isn't as interesting to me as those books that I do need.

TAC: What is your favourite WFRP fan material (any edition)?

Whymme: Apart from the Liber Fanatica and my own website, you mean? Then I'd go with the things that kept WFRP alive after Games Workshop gave up printing RPGs (the first time), and after Hogshead did the same. The products of that fan community, like Warpstone, TimCon and Strike to Stun have been very important for WFRP, and still are.

TAC: What's the iconic WFRP opponent for you?

Whymme: Humans. All those rats and goblins and bloodthirsters are very nice and all, but for me WFRP has always been about the evil that people do to each other. We were talking about grim and gritty, and I believe that showing what man is capable of is far grittier than introducing bumbling orcish sword fodder or a skaven society that seems to have walked straight out of Paranoia. Sure, the beastmen and chaos gods and such are great decoration, but in the end what makes adventures interesting are human weaknesses and the problems they cause.

TAC: What could we have more of in WFRP?

Whymme: Good adventures, good setting information. A very active fan base. Can we ever have enough of that?

TAC: What could we have less of in WFRP?

Whymme: The simplistic part of the imagery in WFB. Bad adventures. Game companies that stop producing WFRP.

TAC: What's the status of WFRP in your home country?

Whymme: Not sure, really. If you look at the forums, you see that a number of active posters come from the Netherlands. So there must be more groups playing WFRP than just mine. I just never met them.

A couple of years ago we tried to organise a WFRP-con for Dutch-speaking WFRP players (from the Netherlands and Belgium - and we planned to run a line of English language adventures for furriners who wanted to join), but in the end that attempt fell flat. Perhaps we should try again some time.

TAC: What are your hopes for the future of WFRP?

Whymme: WFRP has always been a fan effort. It was fan community that made the game survive when the publishers gave up on it, and it was that same community that gave the game its tone and themes. And even when the game got new life and a new edition, lots of worthwhile material has been produced by fans of the game. If anything, I hope that this fan material and the fan community will continue to be a big part of the game; I cannot imagine WFRP without it.
A WFRP without an active fan community is indeed a bleak prospect. Projects like Liber Fanatica are incredibly important to that community, both for the creativity it showcases and for the wealth of additional background and source material it creates, but also because it brings fans together to write, to create, to build on the community. Wim's, Henrik's and Jude's enthusiasm and their attitude of "it can be done" is contagious, and I hope many more catch the disease!

So if you haven't done so yet, download the Liber Fanatica releases. They'll make your game richer and more exciting, and what else can we wish for?

I thank Wim for taking his time, and eagerly await the next installment in the Liber Fanatica series!


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