Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3e

This post concerns two sessions of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay that Samhaine ran. If this doesn’t interest you, move along, for you’ll surely get no joy of this post.

I have liked the general flow of WHFRP3e (hereafter WH – I haven’t played any other tabletop incarnation of WHFRP, so for me there’s no available confusion), with its card-contained abilities, since we first opened up the box and started poking through it. Their action cards, talents, hero-team cards, villain group cards… all of these store data in a very useful and intelligent manner, much as in FFG’s other favorite game of mine, Arkham Horror.

Both games suffer from the same serious issue, though. Once you need information that is in the rulebook rather than somewhere on the cards, you have a problem. If you need to understand what the color-coding on a monster tile in Arkham Horror means, you kind of have a problem. If you need to know how the normal (not stunt-based) functions of your character’s skills work in WH, you’re in for some hunting. FFG can’t organize a rulebook to be readily navigable to save their lives. The rulebooks for both of these games are pretty small, but there are several of them. I believe WH’s boxed set has three, and the expansion books surely have more. AH has one, and its expansion Dunwich has one, and Kingsport has one, and King in Yellow has a double-sided page, and Black Goat has a double-sided page. Then you get into the fact that Dunwich contains errata and clarifications for the AH core rules, and it turns into even more of a hot mess.

It’s an issue. Not an insurmountable one, but at this point I play both AH and WH just often enough for things to get blurry in my memory. If I ran WH every other week, I’d look these kinds of things up often enough that they’d imprint in my mind. (And then I’d really be screwed when they released errata – not that D&D 4e is a damn bit better about that.)

I really love the decision-making that goes into WH combat. There are three main defensive actions: Dodge, Block, and Parry. It’s important that they’re Actions, not passive defenses, because when you’re attacked you choose one or more of these to put on cooldown to impede the attacker’s swing. My hunter in this most recent WH game also had the talent “Catlike Reflexes,” which was a lot like another Dodge that was on a cooldown that takes three times as long.

Speaking of cooldowns: I find the ways they use recharge timers to be very interesting. They use the same basic mechanic to accomplish both “time until reusable” and “time until effect expires.” With some effects, you find yourself deliberately generating additional recharge timers, and with others you find ways to hurry your recharges along. One very useful support role that a party member could play would be to just remove the main tank-type’s defensive recharge tokens. WH does almost as good a job of supporting coordinated party play as 4e D&D.

Difficulty scaling for most kinds of rolls is weird, thanks to the custom WH dice. You have blue Attribute Dice, which can sometimes be replaced with red Reckless or green Conservative dice. You have yellow Expertise dice, white Fortune dice (these things are damn near worthless; three faces out of six don’t help you), black Misfortune dice (these things are awful; three faces out of six screw you) (ahem), and purple Challenge dice (these stand in for higher difficulties, so they have no purpose but to screw you in varying degrees). The game does something that is unexpected on first glance: good dice and bad dice that are obvious inverses don’t cancel each other out – you just build a more and more ridiculous fistful of dice. One of the rolls I made tonight (for Threading the Needle, I think?) had 4 blue, 1 red, 1 yellow, 7 (!) white, one purple, and maybe 1-2 black. Putting together the correct fistful of dice and then totaling the results is almost exactly as cumbersome as calculating attack and damage in D&D 3.x or 4e; WH only loses out if it’s a hassle to get the dice from the other players, since the core set includes only enough dice for one player at a time to use them.

The other part of difficulty scaling that is weird is on skill use. When your relevant attribute is low, you roll a small number of dice and you have a huge number of Challenge Dice. (Four challenge dice is comparable in my experience to an automatic failure, and many skills have penalties for increasing degrees of failure. This leads to “First Aid is almost impossible at the start of play.”) As your attribute increases (and in all likelihood you have more expertise dice and fortune dice), your challenge dice also decrease. Conceptually, this would be like low-level D&D characters aiming for DC 25, while high-level D&D characters aim for DC 10. I haven’t played a WH character of anything other than starting build, though, so it’s hard for me to know how this plays.

The starting adventure that comes with the boxed set is strange. We got cut up very badly in the opening fight, and then had no way at all to heal Wounds. (WH has you randomly draw your starting career, and none of us were healer-types. Three dice does not make for an effective First Aid pool.) It became clear that the bad guys were about to spring a really horrible ambush on us, and we would have had absolutely no chance of winning in our current condition. (All three of us were injured, each with one critical wound, and the fighter was poisoned.) This is the point at which we started acting rather than reacting, and thanks to Samhaine’s willingness to roll with our plans, we averted the entirety of the bad guys’ plans. It showcased how the game’s mechanics supported some good fast-talking, which our gambler had in long supply.

While I don’t want any of my current games to end, I have vague dreams of someday running WH in the style of a West Marches game. I’d just want to hard-cap the game at 4 players; I’ve seen WH slow down to a crawl even worse than D&D with 6. The reasons for this are complicated, but I’ve enjoyed writing this post, so I might talk about that one in some future entry.

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