Posted by: Sean | October 18, 2008

Reading List: World of Warcraft — The Roleplaying Game. A review.

The most managed intellectual property on Earth is probably Star Wars. You may not realise this, but every single Star Wars product out there goes through Lucasarts. Every toy, every game, every t-shirt. It all has to be approved.

Second most? It may very well have been World of Warcraft. Because while there are non-vetted t-shirts and toys out there, not to mention unofficial stuff (some of it really good unofficial stuff, at that), the World of Warcraft RPG was seriously vetted out. Pretty much every word in the thing was approved and run through with Chris Metzner, World of Warcraft’s chief lore guy.

I say this to head of a few common criticisms. That White Wolf were “winging it”. That clearly they didn’t understand the property. Nevermind that before the World of Warcraft RPG, they had produced the Warcraft RPG, so they’d had a lot of time to get familiar with it. And besides which, as a former White Wolf freelancer myself, I can tell you first hand that these guys love Warcraft, and know it inside out.

Which is why this product is just frickin’ baffling. Because it bears no resemblance to the computer game at all. How would you like to play a druid with your nifty animal companions? Don’t you remember having animal companions in the computer game to help you? What about playing a gnome druid? That sounds funky, right?

How would you like to play a shaman with no totems? Doesn’t sound so great now, huh?

One really has to wonder: What happened?

The book:

Let’s start with the best part of this product, the physical book itself. Frankly, it’s a beauty. Hardcover, 400 pages, full colour from start to finish. There’s a whole heap of artwork here, including images generated from within the game itself (thankfully minor), grabs from the cinematic, and best of all, original artwork taken from either marketing images or brand new stuff. I’m particularly fond of the illustrations marking the class and race pages, which are beautifully done.

Likewise, the layout is gorgeous; very much in keeping with the third edition Dungeons and Dragons look. Text is clean and clear (and mercifully on plain white paper) and the organisation of the book is fairly straightforward, with system in the middle and a bit of lore at the front and back.

The system:

But, and this is the crux of my quirked brows, what on earth is up with the system?

World of Warcraft uses the D&D 3rd edition rules, normally dubbed ‘d20’. (We’re now up to 4th edition, but this product was written when 3.0 rules were the most up to date.) d20 uses a fairly simple system in which a single 20 sided dice is rolled as the basis for most combat, hence the name of the system. Armor makes you harder to hit, while weapons decide how much damage you receive. Characters have a number of hit points, upon hitting zero hit points, you’re dead. All fairly straightforward so far.

Statistics for characters are likewise drawn mostly from World of Warcraft, you roll on Strength, Agility, Stamina, Intellect, Spirit and Charisma (the only added in statistic). The game also gets credit for making the stats correspond roughly to the same tasks in the MMORPG; for instance, intellect or spirit (for mages and priests respectively) informs how many spells you can cast per day, which is roughly similar to mana.

But it’s not mana. And herein is the first problem: This system doesn’t promote a feeling like Warcraft, especially for casters.

Hey, mage! Wanna rain down arcane missiles on your opponents time and time again? Nope. You can only do that four times a day.

A day.

Alright, that’s not entirely accurate. You can cast it more than that provided you rest for eight uninterrupted hours in between. Why, if you planned it really well, you could even cast it eight times a day! But it’s cool, because at level four you’ll be able to summon a water elemental.

Yes, at level four! The tier nine talent at level four! And they’re not the only class who have issues, frankly.

Let’s look at the races and classes available. I have to give credit to the game for choosing to list a lot more races than are available in the MMORPG — There’s simply no reason not to play a goblin, or a high elf in the game. Why not? And all the eight basic races from World of Warcraft are available, so that’s fine. (The draenei and blood elves are absent, but this game was released before Burning Crusade.) In total, there are: Dwarves, High Elves, Night Elves, Gnomes, Goblins, Humans, Orcs, Tauren, Trolls and Undead.

However (you knew there’d be one, right?) the way in which they’ve implemented racial abilities is, to be frank, odd. You can take ‘racial levels’ by multi-classing with your class. What’s multi-classing, you ask? Glad you asked, because White Wolf didn’t. It’s pretty clear that White Wolf assumed they’d be picking up D&D players, who are familiar with the concept (you take on two-classes at once and pay by having an increased time required to level up in each) rather than getting MMORPG players to the gaming table. This to me is a dangerous assumption: World of Warcraft represented a damn good chance to pick up new people into the hobby, but this product blows it by aiming itself squarely at the in-crowd.

Nowhere is this attitude more obvious than in the classes. Look, if you were designing this game for new players, familiar only with the MMORPG, then the idea would be simple: Take the classes in the computer game and faithfully translate them across, granting new abilities in a rough proportion to when they’re obtained in game.

Instead, these are the classes on offer: Arcanist, barbarian, healer, hunter (FINALLY! One of the actual Warcraft classes!), paladin, rogue, scout, tinker and warrior.

Want to play a mage? That’s under arcanist. So is warlock. Priest? Under healer, along with shaman and druid. So yes, everything in the game is represented, eventually. But y’know what, Blizzard and White Wolf? No.

No. Not good enough.

This could be the gateway, guys. It may be someone’s first ever RPG. Do not make them leap through freaking hoops. I can forgive, perhaps, the tinker class, since that’s a nice idea that clearly isn’t really able to be represented in the MMORPG. But barbarian? Why on earth can’t a barbarian be absorbed into the warrior class? What the hell is the difference between a rogue and a scout? Why are you confusing the players by making them split their attention with classes, unsure which one their character falls into?

Not to mention that these classes don’t even work like the classes in game? When do druids get “animal companions”, a concept that receives more pages and wordcount than their ability to change into other animals, an ability that is their key concept within the game? Why the hell are druids and shamans relegated to the class of ‘healer’? Not to mention: Shamans don’t have totems! This is such an unbelievable oversight that I can’t believe I even have to say it. Why on earth was not a totem mechanism considered?

Also, any race can be any class. Yes, I’m as flabbergasted as you are. No racial limits were ever mentioned. Tauren rogue? Go right on ahead, boyo.

Where the fuck are talent trees? This would have been dead freaking simple to accomplish in D&D, since talent trees are basically “Feats”, a concept that’s been running around in D&D 3rd edition from the main book. And sure enough, feats make an appearance in the World of Warcraft RPG… but they’re just randomly disordered. There’s no sense of trees, ala the computer game. Nothing that would let a person get a grip… get a grip…

Breathe, Sean.

Look, I’m getting worked up. But the bottom line is this: The system presented here does not, in any way, shape, or form, create a game that could plausibly resemble the MMORPG experience in any way, shape, or form. Furthermore, there were very obvious and simple ways to make it do so. Make the number of spells you can cast be per battle, a decision that would nicely create the ‘out of mana’ sensation.

The lore.

Alright. Last question: Can the lore save it? This is, after all, official stuff. Anything in here is Word of God. If there’s heaps and heaps of juicy lore tidbits here, it’s worth it, right?

… yeah.

Did you want to know how many people live in Stormwind? It’s in here! Or you could check WoWWiki.

Wanna know the deal with Illidan’s plans, at least pre-Burning Crusade? It’s in here. Also at WoWWiki.

How about demon cultists and how they identify each other? Hah, that’s not at WoWWiki! It’s done with a tattoo hidden somewhere on their person!

Oh wait, now it’s here at Blogatelle.

Guys, there’s a paucity of information in this original book. You get a run-down of each race, which is perhaps nice, but really. The book is 90% system, and as previously noted, the system is pretty dire at trying to conjure up a reasonable facsimile of Warcraft at the dinner table.

In conclusion

This just isn’t worth it. Sure, it’s available at Blizzard’s store at the very reasonable price of only 39.99 US plus shipping. But honestly, if you must have it, you’d be better off just buying the PDF at You’ll save nineteen bucks, and shipping, which is enough to purchase either the Alliance Players Guide or the Horde Players Guide and maybe even both depending on where you live. Those books actually do have a wealth of good lore in them, even though the system remains, well, woeful.

Look, it’s a decent fantasy system. If it were its own game, I’d say it was a fair attempt with more setting detail required. But as an official Warcraft RPG, it’s just woeful at feeling like Warcraft. If you want to run Warcraft at your dinner table, I recommend playing with a bunch of good RPG and Warcraft players, grabbing Tri-Stat DX (which is free) and using WoWWiki to grab your setting detail. I guarantee you’ll have to do more work, but in the end you’ll come up with a more authentic experience.



  1. I use it a lot for lore and information, but was disappointed that they adopted basic tabletop roleplaying concepts to the game. As you mentioned, the history and description sections are beautiful, but everything else is just bleh.

    We adopted another system — can’t remember which as it was a few years ago — and ran campaigns until The Burning Crusade came out. It was a hell of a lot more satisfying as a roleplayer because our characters grew and evolved beyond the boundaries of the game. I even took one of my human characters, came to the appropriate conclusion when our campaign was cut short, and rerolled her in as her Forsaken counterpart within the game.

  2. I was never impressed with the system. After leafing through it at my local game shop, I decided against picking it up, even though I’m probably the biggest lore whore anywhere.

    I’d like to see something a little more true to the MMO, but my group is playing 4th Edition D&D these days, so that’s unlikely.

  3. Hmm never played it, but I must say I am not too surprised that there are problems and inconsistencies with the game.

    But at least it does provide the beautiful art, and the lore, (oh the lore) that breathes as much life into our RP’ing as our imaginations.

  4. The problem is that they tried to make WoW fit the 3E system, and it really doesn’t.

    The irony is that, to a great degree, the new 4th Edition is WoW, or at least heavily inspired by it and other MMOs. You can cast spells (or make special strikes, or trick shots, or) at will, or once per round, or once per day. You can heal almost as easily as sitting down and having some food and water. And so on.

    The “WoW RPG” had the bad luck to come out for the old D&D system just as the new one was being written to be a WoW RPG. (And the old D&D players have been screaming about this ever since 4E’s changes were revealed.) An accident of timing.

  5. (sorry about that – new to this blog, tried to add my own markup. Just imagine italics where appropriate.) (FIXED!; Sean.)

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