Saturday, August 28, 2010

Warhammer Fantasy RPG impressions

Last night we were going to be short some players for our usual game. 2 of them would be off at a local con. I would have also probably been at the con, if it weren't for the fact that I'm going to an even bigger con up in Seattle next week (Penny Arcade Expo, for those of you wondering). I asked if everybody wanted me to run D&D as we otherwise would and the response was generally that they didn't, not with so many people gone. We threw out some of our usual options, like Talisman, Arkham Horror, and other board games. I had an idea though and suggested it to the group, who were also interested in the idea. Last night, we would be playing the latest edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. My friend had bought it and some extras for it like the Winds of Magic expansion and he's been wanting to run it, so he agreed to run a one-shot of it for us last night.

Now, I've never played ~any~ version of WFRP, though I'd read through some books of previous editions years and years ago when I was at the height of the period in my life where I gave Games Workshop entirely too much of my money (oh, to go back and tell my younger self to stop buying GW stuff). So I won't be making direct comparisons to the older games. Or any other games, for that matter.

The first thing I thought when my friend opened the box? Holy shit there are a lot of little things. This edition of WFRP comes across as much a board game in some respects as it does a standard tabletop roleplaying game. I made the joke that it felt a lot like Arkham Horror in that respect and it really did. There are a lot of cardboard markers. There are also a lot of cards of different sorts.

To start off with, we chose a player card. These kind of define something which can be considered your class. There are old staples like the rat-catcher and commoner, things like the troll slayer or the apprentice wizard, and a whole lot of other options. All of them are viable and can bring something to a party, even a commoner. Some are just better at some aspects of the game than others. The way the game wants you to choose your player card is to pick 3 at random from the pile and then choose 1 of those 3. We end up choosing our own, plus one of us had to be an apprentice wizard for the sake of the adventure we were playing. I ended up as a Trollslayer, which I'd definitely wanted to play. My friend Eugene took the wizard and our other friend Sean ended up taking a rat-catcher.

Character generation was pretty simple. Every race starts with a set of base characteristics and extras. There are several characteristics such as Strength, Toughness, Intelligence, Willpower, etc. As dwarves, Sean and I started with slightly higher Strength and Toughness. Eugene, as a human, didn't start with any higher stats. Sean and I also got some extras for playing as dwarves, like an extra skill training and a couple special rules. Eugene missed on these as well for playing a human. Then all the players get character points to use to customize their character. You spend the points to determine how wealthy you are, how many skills you have trained, how many action cards you get, and so on. You can also up your characteristics with these points. This is where Eugene made up for missing out earlier, as he got 25 character points and Sean and I only got 20.

The action cards thing is a slightly odd mechanic. Which is pretty funny coming from someone who plays D&D4e with all the power cards. Anyway. Every player that meets the requirements gets a set of basic action cards. These reflect things that the character can do all the time. These are things like melee strike, parry, dodge, assess the situation, and so on. In addition, you also get a pool of action cards that you can play. How many depend on how many character points you spend. These can be things like spells, attacks, siccing your dog on someone, etc. These are the only things your character can do in combat. If you don't have the attribute high enough so that you can use Parry? Sorry, you're out of luck, you can't parry.

You also get other cards for your character which are harder to define. On the side of each player card are several "slots" that you can put cards on. I'll use my Trollslayer as an example. I had 2 Tactics slots and in character creation I bought 3 Tactics cards. I could have 2 of them active at any time because that's how many slots my card had. These cards sometimes had passive effects, sometimes you could actively use them for some sort of benefit. Not all of them are combat related, though in my case they were. For example, the wizard had a card that let him add an additional die when he made Observation checks.

Oh, and about the dice. WFRP3e does not use your standard dice. There are d6s and d8s, but they all have different custom symbols on them. There are different colored dice, each which have different purposes. I'll have a combat round example later because trust me, an example helps make sense of everything a little better. But before I get to that, let me explain the different dice and how they're unusual. There are good dice that you want to roll and bad dice you want to avoid rolling. Going from worst to best, there are challenge dice, misfortune dice, characteristic dice, stance dice, fortune dice, and expertise dice. Instead of numbers, there are symbols for different things, again some of which you want and others you don't. From worst to best again, they are Chaos Star, bane, challenge, success, boon, and Sigmar's comet. Banes negate boons, challenges negate successes. Depending on the card you're playing or the action you're performing, what you end up with can have different effects. Again, example later.

There are some other small fiddly bits at this stage and some of it is hard to describe without a book in front of me to read from. Every action card has 2 sides, a conservative side and a reckless side. Every character card indicates how reckless or conservative that character is, this is described as their stance. This is represented by an encounter tracker. For example, my Trollslayer had 1 conservative slot and 3 reckless slots along with the neutral slot that everybody starts with. At the beginning of your combat turn, you must move your marker up and down the encounter tracker to determine if you're getting more conservative or more reckless and thus how your powers work.

I know, it probably sounds like chargen and everything is is really complex. To some extent, it is. There are a lots of bits and pieces and things to keep track of. That said, once you get used to it, it's not bad at all. The three of us playing last night picked it up fairly quickly.

But here we go, a combat example. This is based off what happened last night, slightly changed. It won't cover everything I mentioned and it won't mention some things at all, but it'll get most of it as well as somethings like wounds and crits that I didn't.

 We are facing a mutant thing which used to be human, but has sprouted feathers, a beak, and claws and is unhappy to see my Trollslayer. The fiend wins initiative, rolling 4 characteristic dice for Agility and getting 3 successes. I only have 2 successes, so the enemy goes first. Range is abstract in WFRP, described as engaged, close, medium, and far I believe. The fiend started off at close range and uses a maneuver to move to engagement range, then uses another one to attack. I play an action card, parry. This adds 1 misfortune dice to his dice pool. Since my character is trained in Weapon Skill, it adds a second misfortune dice to his pool. And finally, my Trollslayer has a Defense of 1, which adds yet another misfortune dice to his pool.

The fiend rolls and hits! The fiend does 5 wounds to me. My Trollslayer has a Soak of 1, so I only take 4 wounds. My Trollslayer is considered lightly wounded now and will be so until I either have no wounds or if my wounds go over 15, crossing into the next wounded category. However, because of all the misfortune dice I added to the monster's pool, it has also rolled several banes. It still hits me, but it has a complication. In this case, there were enough banes that I could choose to put a recharge token on the attack it just used. Most, but not all, action cards have a recharge value. When you use the card, you put a number of tokens equal to that value on the card and you can't use it again until they're all gone. You remove 1 token at the end of your turn. For some cards that have sustained effects, the effect actually lasts until all the recharge tokens are gone. The parry card I used earlier has a recharge of 2, so I would have 2 tokens on it, keeping me from using it again for 2 more combat rounds. But back to the example, now the monster couldn't use that particular attack on me again next turn because my parry had helped throw it off balance or something.

Now it's my character's turn. To start my turn, I must move my stance. I'm a Trollslayer, so I want to move from neutral to 1 deep in Reckless. That means all cards I play will be use the reckless side. Reckless side will hit less often, but it has more dramatic effects when it does. I decide that I'm going to use Double Strike. It has a recharge of 2, so I set it aside and put 2 tokens on it. I build my dice pool. Double Strike uses Weapon Skill. Weapon Skill is based on Strength, so I get a number of characteristic dice equal to my Strength, in this case 5. But I'm 1 deep in my Reckless stance, so I replace one of those Strength dice with a Reckless die. If I'd been 3 deep into Reckless, I would have replaced 3 Strength dice with Reckless dice. I have Weapon Skill trained, so I get an expertise die. I'm using a hand weapon and I happen to have a specialization in hand weapon, which gives me an additional fortune die. Double Strike also has a difficulty die to use it, in this case I have to add a misfortune die to my pool. I also have to add one more misfortune die for the monsters defense.

So my dice pool for this attack consists of 4 characteristic dice, 1 reckless die, 1 expertise die, 1 fortune die, and 2 misfortune dice. I roll and get 2 successes, 1 challenge, 1 Sigmar's comet, 1 boon, and 2 banes. As I said, challenges negate successes and banes negate boons, so my final roll is 1 success, 1 bane, and 1 Sigmar's comet. If I'd rolled 2 banes, the Double Strike card tells me that there would have been a penalty, in this case I would have picked up 1 Fatigue (something which I didn't and won't get into), but since I only rolled 1, I'm okay. If I'd had more boons than banes, I would have read what the card says for having those. Sigmar's comet happens to have a special effect when using Double Strike, in this case I could strike another enemy combatant engaged with me with my main hand weapon. But since there are no other enemies, I can instead choose to treat it as a success. So now I have 2 successes. I read what the card tells me for 2 successes. In this case, I do damage with my main hand weapon, my off hand weapon, and bonus damage equal to my strength. I'm using hammers, which have a damage rating of 5. So I do 10 damage right there, plus 5 more for my Strength score for a total of 15. This is a pretty nasty hit and ends up killing the monster outright as it only had 14 wounds.

Critical hits work different and I'll explain using another example. Let's say that instead of 2 banes, I'd rolled 3 boons. Every weapon has a critical rating. If you roll a net number of boons equal to your weapon's critical rating, you can turn one of the wounds you cause into a critical wound. For example, the hammers my Trollslayer was using have damage rating 5 and critical rating 3. Let's say I hit and have 3 boons. I can use my boons to play an effect on the card, if there is one, or I can choose to make it a critical hit. If I make it a critical hit, the monster takes 5 wound cards as normal, but one of them is flipped over to reveal what nasty effect it has. These were, as far as I can tell, mostly things like adding challenge or misfortune dice to the pool of the creature affected for certain actions. In cases where the GM decides that the effect doesn't really apply to a creature (like blinding a creature with no eyes, I suppose), you instead take the severity rating of the critical wound and treat it as that many more wounds. So let's say that my critical hit has a wound effect that doesn't really affect the monster and that critical wound card has a severity of 3. The card would then act as though it added 3 more wounds. In this case, for a grand total of 8 wounds from this attack.

Okay, that about wraps it up. I can't claim to be an expert at the game and it's entirely possible there are some errors. After all, everybody at the table was new to the game. Even the GM. Overall? I think it's a pretty fun game. I'm not sure it's one I personally would like to play as a long term campaign, but I can very easily see it as something I would play for a few weeks as a mini campaign. I'm not sure of it's viability as a 1-shot game either, unless everybody is already familiar with the system. We spent a long time last night just learning the system and creating characters. Once we got playing, things were great, but it was a lot of time invested in getting to that point first and that's not good for a game you're going to play only one or two nights. But generally speaking I think the game's quite a bit of fun despite the fiddly bits and the learning curve.