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Old World Armoury and Other Equipment Guides

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RPGPundit:
People have been complaining about the new "Old World Armoury", the latest equipment sourcebook for Warhammer 2nd edition.  I've picked up a copy, and I'm going to tell you why I had ALMOST absolutely loved it and why, sadly, I must hate it now.
 
Now, as a rule, I hate equipment sourcebooks. Not quite as much as I hate feat or prestige class sourcebooks, but still.
 
To me, all three of these are usually delivered in the form of "books for powergame players".  There is NO human reason on earth why you as a DM will need 430 Prestige Classes, but for a player this is superior. It means that, unless the DM bothers to read EVERY SINGLE ENTRY, they will be able to sneak some prestige class past the DM that will appear balanced at first glance but will grant him UNSTOPPABLE POWER in short order.

These are nothing but tools for manipulating and wearing down DMs. Ditto with books full of nothing but feats.  Its meant to put pressure on DMs who are too inexperienced or too lily-livered to know that when your PCs start trying to push stuff from these exterior books, its time to very forcefully jam a pencil into their ribs.
 
These books are never in good faith. They have names like "The Ultimate Book of Feats", or "Ultimate Prestige Classes". You know what that "ultimate" really means? It means "far more fucking powerful than the Magic Deer ever intended; it will make your character so powerful that it will break your GMs game".  And it astounds me just how many dipshit players seem to think this is a good thing; as if their own character, now with superhuman powers, will somehow survive when the DM has to cancel the campaign because he's become so broken that its no fun for anyone anymore.  Too many players don't seem to get that if their characters are not balanced, then the game will not be playable.

I don't mean balanced with each other. I've never had a problem with having some characters of higher power levels than others. I mean balanced WITH THE SETTING. If your character is suddenly too powerful for anything in the entire setting to be any kind of a threat, then that game is done.
 
And sadly, each one of these kinds of Prestige Class or Feat books HAVE to make ever-more-powerful entries than the last, because otherwise the powergaming little snots wouldn't buy them.
 
Equipment guides, at least, have something of a legitimate raison d'ĂȘtre.  They have the unfortunate tendency to typically consist of:
80% absolutely worthless items neither the DM nor players would ever care about
5% actually useful items that SHOULD have been in the main book to begin with
15% completely broken MEGA-ITEMS that will destroy your campaign if you let your players have them
 
That is the bog-standard equipment guide.  Some will lean more toward the bad, and a few more toward the good.  In general, how much I've managed to stand equipment guides was based on just how high that "useful items" category creeped up, and just how low that "mega-item" statistic dropped.  But never had I found an equipment book and said "I LOVE this!"
 
The Old World Armoury looked like it could be that book.  I had on the whole been rather pleased with the 2nd edition Warhammer book.  I liked the format, I loved how they fixed the combat system, and I am not ashamed to say that the magic system  made me cream my pants. Never had a system gone from having such a horrific magic system (in 1st ed) to such an aboslutely astounding one (in 2nd).
 
But for the most part the sourcebooks for Warhammer have thus far been uninspiring. I haven't bothered to get the bestiary yet. Unlike many, I have felt that there weren't too few monsters in the mainbook; Warhammer is not about running around fighting fantasy monsters the way D&D is. Its about running around fighting brigands and wild animals, until you suddenly run into Cthulhu.  Any step in between those extremes is quite rare; so I wasn't in a big hurry for the bestiary.
 
Likewise, Im not a big fan of adventure books, so those were right out. I am looking forward to a magic sourcebook, or a chaos sourcebook, but for now the only book that caught my eye was the Armoury.

I did feel that, if it was well done, Warhammer would benefit from an equipment book, and somehow I understood the Armoury to be an "economy in general" book, which I thought would be spectacular. It didn't quite turn out to be all that, but I was still very pleasantly surprised.
 
The book's section on currencies was well-done; the section on arms, armour and guns were all done in a way that there was no "MEGA-ITEM".  This was excellent! WFRP in particular should not be about "MEGA-ITEMs". Its a game where starting classes include "bonepicker" (they should have called it "dung-gatherer"), "ratcatcher", and "camp follower" (you know, a whore).  It is not a game for mega-items, and the Armoury carefully avoided it.
 
The book then had sections on general equipment that included some useful items, animals, housing, and rare treasures. These were all well done. There was also a section on hirelings that was absolutely excellent.
 
So overall in terms of content, the book was something like 40% useless minutiae, and 60% legitimately useful stuff; and 0% Mega-items. This is an absolutely astounding ratio.  It means the book is actually mostly useful; I'd never found an equipment guide that one could say that about before.

Part of what made this book so good was the presentation: the way that the book detailed everything from the art to the introductions to the little touches along the way, made it one of the few equipment guides that were enjoyable to read.    Details on things like quack medicine, weekly income expectations for running different kinds of businesses, or characteristics for henchmen all give a definitive "Old World" feel.

There's also the touches of humour in the book, or things I found funny anyways, like the Estalian gold piece being called the "excellente!", or the rules on how to counterfeit, or the halfling's consistant portrayal as a bunch of crooked pie-salesmen, who's national coin has a "gigantic cock" on it (cock as in rooster, but it gives you the feeling the halflings are playing a joke there somewhere).
 
So if all this is right, what's wrong with the book? Others are pointing out mostly minute errors. A lot of the pricings seem very odd or incorrect, especially in the high end of the scale, where items that are supposedly very very rare are critically undervalued. Either that, or items on the low scale are really overvalued and peasants are earning a lot more than they ought to be.  The book could certainly stand to have been edited more thuroughly before going to the presses.

But that would be forgiveable.
No, my issue with it is this: nowhere, in the whole goddamn book that is supposed to be a material catalogue of "Old World" culture, is there an entry for Pipes or Tobacco! Its not that there isn't a section, its that there isn't anything at all. You don't find out how much a pipe, or pipeweed, costs.  The bastards left it out!
 
You may think I'm being silly here, but I'm dead fucking serious. Pipes and pipe smoking are depicted as being very common in the Warhammer setting. Hell, there's a guy SMOKING ONE in one of the Armoury's fucking illustrations! ON THE FUCKING FOURTH PAGE OF THE BOOK.
 
What can one conclude from this? Either the people who wrote this book are grossly incompetent in missing a major element of culture that you could expect your PCs to be curious about, or they were malignant in their omission.
 
I doubt that pipes would have just slipped their minds.  They dedicated a huge section to booze. They have an entire section dedicated to fucking musical instruments. You can find out how much a deck of cards costs, or a bottle of cologne.  Everything except the noble tobacco. So while I would like to believe it was "just" a case of GROSS INCOMPETENCE, I very much doubt it.
 
So what does that tell me? That the authors of this book are a gang of politically correct fuckwits who intentionally left out pipes and smoking because of political or ideological reasons? You got it. These worthless bastards have actually dumped political correctness into the Warhammer game, the most politically incorrect of fantasy games, like a steaming hot turd crapping all over the setting.  What good is a setting like Warhammer if its writers are going to start whitewashing it to fit modern nanny-state conventions of morality? Its pathetic. Its also absurd! What the fuck are these morons thinking? Here you have a game where its perfectly ok for your characters to have to confront unspeakable evil from the pits of chaos that sacrifice children or transform virgins into deformed monstrosities; that tries to reach in and corrupt the characters' very souls, but to have them confront the "evils of tobacco" would just go over the line?  I mean, really, what the fuck?!
 
Its a perverse imposition of ideology, and I can't understand why this would be, in a game that had such a rich tradition of pipe-related elements before; its a betrayal.
 
So in the end, for this most glaring of omissions, and for what I suspect to be the motives behind this omission, I have to hate this book.  I would really sincerely wish that someone from Black Industries, ideally Robert Schwalb or Chris Pramas or someone who was directly involved in the design of this manual, could come along and tell me that the motive for leaving out tobacco WASN'T political, and give me a plausible explanation of what it was otherwise.  Until then, I have to continue to say that I've never seen an equipment guide I ever liked.
 
RPGPundit July 31 2005

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