I got together with the indomitable John Harper (http://mightyatom.blogspot.com/), the fabulous Shannon Riddle (http://www.doublethesugarblog.com/), the judicious Jonathan Walton (http://thouandone.wordpress.com/) and the blog-less Paul Riddle for some Warhammer Fantasy RP 3E last week. It’s got some interesting features, so I figured I’d parse it out a bit.
These are just my thoughts, not a real review. My only real experience with WFRP 2E was John’s long-running game, but I’m not convinced we were really using it as intended. (That game probably deserves its own post.)
What’s in the box?
The biggest thing about WFRPG 3E is that it’s packaged more like a board game than a traditional RPG. The box is huge, but it comes with everything you need for one GM and 3 players: printed character sheets, various tokens, custom dice, cards for classes, powers, locations, and character standups to use for combat.
Character creation is a little more involved than 2E. There’s some point-buy stuff going on, with the only random part of character creation being career selection. For our group of 4 players, character creation took somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half, with at least one person being fed up by the time it was finished.
WFRP 3E also makes a nod towards character development like D&D 4E with a list of questions that are completely optional and of varying quality. This section was kind of a letdown, I’d really like to see more character actually make it into the character sheet.
Maybe the best innovation in character creation is the party sheet. The party has a sheet just like the characters, giving them advantages and a track to monitor the party’s Tension.
We got things kicking with our party of Brash Young Fools (one of the coolest party sheets) trying to drum up a customer for their escort business. The scene opened with the characters walking into the decrepit audience room of a wizard’s keep. The wizard, Archibald, needed an escort to the ancient graveyard where he could find the bone needed to create a new attuned item (which wizards need to cast). His steward, Ximar, was secretly gunning for his master, and wanted him to head out to the graveyard without a full escort so he’d hopefully die on the way, leaving Ximar in charge.
That’s a lot of background to get to the point: we had a social challenge to see if the players could win over Archibald before Ximar convinced him to head out on his own. Social challenges (and skill-based challenges in general) turned out to be a bit of a letdown. WFRP suggests moving tokens along tracks to track these challenges, which sounds cool, but ends up being little more than a re-skinning of D&D 4E’s skill challenges. The whole thing seems a little uninspired.
Basically, WFRP doesn’t move much ahead of 4E here. There are a few more social powers, but not a whole lot. It’s been years since Burning Wheel, Dogs in the Vineyard and many other games made leaps ahead in social encounters, but WFRP and D&D are still way behind.
Okay, social challenges aren’t too great, but what about combat? When the players won over Archibald, Ximar was forced to make his move and pulled out his wand.
Combat worked out better than the social encounter. Each character has a set of Action cards to choose from, both from the basic set and any they bought during character creation. Actions are, in general, a little cooler than powers in 4E. Because of how the dice work, most Actions have a basic effect that you get on a successful roll, a bigger effect that you can get with a bigger success, and positive and negative side effects that can be unlocked by certain dice results. This variability adds a lot, actions have more fun variables than powers do in 4E.
Position is nicely abstracted, so there’s less time spent tracking position and choosing area of effect than D&D. Not too much more to say about it, everyone at the table had played Burning Wheel so nothing in the positioning mechanics seemed all that new.
We had two combats, both of which only had a single opponent, and that showed some of the weaknesses of the basic set. Most of this was my fault, but the book doesn’t provide much guidance on creating good encounters. Monsters are only given vague ratings, with no real suggestion of how they stack up to players. There’s also only a few dozen monsters in the basic set, which doesn’t help either.
That’s what we got to in our first session, there were a couple of issues that came up in general. First, the board-gamey aspects of the game were a big turnoff for one of our players. The game really aims for to be a different take on the 4E style specialized combat thing, and anyone not looking for that isn’t going to like WFRP 3E much.
The other issue, and credit to J-Walt for figuring this one out: the rules weren’t very good about round-tripping to and from the fiction. The idea here is that, ideally, a game lets you take things from the fictional events, plug them into the rules, and get a result that produces more fiction. While we were playing the rules were pretty good about starting out action in the fiction, but the results didn’t really lead back to the fiction.
We’ll probably play again sometime this week, I’ll followup with more thoughts if there’s anything interesting.