I've always been a D&D man; I make no bones about it. Despite having played and written for numerous other fantasy RPGs, some of which I like very much, my heart will always belong to Gygax and Arneson's creation. Consequently, when Games Workshop released Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay back in 1986, I didn't pay it much mind. I was already familiar with Warhammer Fantasy Battle, both from having seen it on sale in various hobby shops and from articles about it in White Dwarf (not to mention advertisements in Dragon), but I didn't play the game nor was I particularly interested in doing so. I greeted the arrival of WFRP in much the same way.
In retrospect, this was probably a mistake on my part, something that, while I can't say I regret, I do feel as if I allowed my tendency toward D&D-centric prejudices to get the better of me. In my defense, I can only say that I knew a number of gamers who were very enthusiastic about WFRP -- too enthusiastic for my taste. Again, I recognize this as a fault in myself; I get turned off by fans mooning over the latest and greatest and tend to assume the worst about it, sight unseen. Likewise, many of these Warhammer fans were filled with that middle class American self-loathing that inevitably leads to the elevation of anything European as inherently better simply by virtue of its not being American and that doesn't do much to win me over either. So, for many years after the fact I didn't think much of WFRP and what little I thought of it was negative and wholly ignorant of the game itself.
It wasn't until sometime in the 90s that I actually bothered to, you know, actually read WFRP that I realized I'd been foolishly denying myself the appreciation of a very good game and indeed a very old school game, though, at the time, I doubt I'd have described it in those terms. I call WFRP "old school" for a lot of reasons, but, chief among them, I think, is that it doesn't take itself too seriously. A lot of its fans clearly take it too seriously, especially here in Naggaroth, but, if you read the original rulebook, you can see that its authors have a good, if dry and often dark, sense of humor about the game and the world in which it takes place. That's to its credit and it's one of the things that I appreciated back in the 90s, when too many gamers treated their games as serious business.
There's more to the "old school-ness" of WFRP, though, than its penchant for puns and hiding jokes in bad translations into foreign languages, particularly German. Its character creation system is a thing of beauty, at once a terrific evocation of "a grim world of perilous adventure" and a subtle commentary on social role -- and life expectancy -- of adventurers. It's second only to Traveller in my affections as being an amusing game-within-a-game and, let's face it, any RPG where being a rat catcher is actually useful wins big points in my book. WFRP is a definitely a game where character death is to be expected, similar in many ways to Call of Cthulhu. It makes no bones about this and experience has taught me that a good -- or at least amusing -- death for one's character in WFRP is something to be savored, if not outright hoped for.
There's a lot more I could say, such as highlighting the game's willingness to mix and match fantasy and science fiction, its setting's ability (again, much like Call of Cthulhu) to evoke genuine heroism in characters, or the charm of "high end amateur" production values, but, ultimately, these aren't why I mention Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay today. I mention it because it's a great game that I overlooked for too long for reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the game itself. It's a sin to which I am particularly prone, as I said, and I can at least take some pride in the fact that I did eventually come around to read and appreciate WFRP. Of course, it's now long out of print and its current edition, like the current edition of my own favorite fantasy RPG, doesn't seem to have most of the things I so liked in the original.
Someone needs to retro-clone this thing ...