WFRP is set in a world resembling the Tolkien-esque world of Middle Earth on the surface, populated with Elves, Dwarves, Orcs and Hobbits. Yet it also contains dark overtones of horror reminscient of H.P.Lovecraft, such that it is thought by some to be one of the first Dark Fantasy roleplaying games to break the mold of its time (born over ten years ago).
Dark forces threaten the late medieval/early renaissance world of WFRP, in the form of the multitudinous tentacles of Chaos (approximately speaking, dynamism and anarchy, taken to their most destructive extremes) that ferment war and destruction in their most obvious forms, and yet also plant the subtle seeds of subversion in the hearts and minds of all the worlds inhabitants.
Opposing the eternal forces of Chaos are the powers of Law, embodying the very opposite of that which Chaos represents. Where Chaos is dynamism and anarchy incarnate taken to their most destructive extremes, so Law represents total stasis, a reality where noone and nothing ever changes. The forces of Law are weak, and the enemies of Chaos often make strange bedfellows of each other in the fight against its corruption. However, should Law become strong, it would be as detrimental to the world as Chaos itself is. The world walks the perilous and rocky path of balance between these two eternal cosmic forces.
WFRP is set for the most part in the Old World (map left), a part of the world akin to Europe. The Old World is dominated by the Empire, germanic in language and outlook (think of it as a kind of cross between the Holy Roman Empire and Germany). The Empire borders on the west with Bretonnia, a kind of corrupt pre-revolutionary France or Arthurian Camelot, depending on who you ask... Estalia (Iberia) and the fractured city-states of Tilea (Italy) lie to the south, and Kislev (a little like Poland with elements of Eastern Europe) to the east of the Empire. Kislev is cold and its people still look to their old gods. Bordering Tilea lies the Border Princes, a lawless area a little like the Balkans and also analagous to elements of Eastern Europe. The whole area has multitudinous mountain ranges that go a long way to creating the natural borders of the major states of the Old World.
The Chaos wastes dominate the north and south poles. In these highly dangerous areas Chaos bends and twists all it encounters - trees, rocks, people, everything. Chaos oozes insidiously from the poles and corrupts all it touches.
Outside the Old World, there's still plenty of scope for adventure. To the north lies ancient Albion, a mystic place of ancient lore, stone circles and old magic. Far north of the Old World, perilously close to the northern Chaos wastes, is the viking-like culture of Norsca (Scandinavia), while beyond Kislev are the distant Mountains of Mourn and the nomadic people of the Northern Steppes. Venture south below the Old World you cross through the Badlands, a harsh rocky area populated by Orcs and Goblins and in a perpetual border conflict with the Border Princes. Travel south from there into the deserts of Araby and the cursed lands where the dead are said to walk, before you leave the desert for the rich tropical jungle of the Southlands, reaching all the way down to touch the southern Chaos wastes at the pole.
Travelling east from the Old World, crossing the Worlds Edge Mountains (home of some of the last vestiges of the once great Dwarven empire), you would encounter the dangerous and inhospitable Darklands, home to all kind of ill-omened creatures. Passing out of the Darklands you find Ind (India) and the oriental states of Nippon and Cathay. Extremely few Old Worlders ever travel this far, however.
Relatively unexplored across the great ocean to the west of this land mass akin to Europe, you find the New World (North America). The elusive and aloof race of the Elves inhabit an ancient and jealously guarded island off the New World. On the New World itself dwells a sub-race of Elves legendary for their dark and bloodthirsty ways, and said to be at war with their island dwelling relatives. Cross the isthmus bridge from there into Lustria (South America) and you encounter dense jungle where, like the Southlands, a race of lizard-men (and, so some say, even frog-men) are rumoured to live. Stories also speak of humans making their home here and taking new shapes and cultures.
Copyright © Ian Ward, 2003
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