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Warhammer Review

Posted in Featured, Games

With one more session played and some time to think about it, I think I’ve got enough ideas for a review of sorts on Warhammer 3E. A reminder of the basics: big beautiful box, board game influences, abstract combat. I’m not really a fan of assigning a total score, so I’m just going to note some things that I liked (which get a ‘+’) and things that I didn’t like so much (which get the matching ‘-‘).

Easy Difficulty +

You know that D&D thing? Where you (the GM) have to make up a difficulty, with a big range of options, when it comes time to roll the dice? Warhammer gets around that pretty nicely by representing difficulty and consequences as dice that get added to a pool. All the GM has to do is push across a few dice to make the difference between a simple task and an epic challenge. It’s about as simple as Lady Blackbird (and Old Mesilla) difficulties, with a similar range. Doesn’t make the GM’s job quite as easy as Apocalypse World, but not many games do.

Encounter Building -

That other staple of D&D, encounter building, doesn’t get the same care. D&D, for better or worse, gives the GM the idea that they can build an encounter appropriate for players of a given level by following an equation. Warhammer doesn’t have the same idea, only giving a general comparison of which monsters are tougher than others.

That doesn’t seem like too big a deal at first. The GM can just throw out what’s appropriate for the fiction and go with that, right? At least for me, as a GM I tend to think of things a little more abstractly: “this band of ratmen’s going to jump them, because they think they can take them.” If I underestimate the difficulty it’s not too bad: those ratmen really could take them, and it’s supposed to be a pretty gritty world. Problem is, if I overestimate it, the ratmen are (more) idiotic, picking a really stupid fight, and I’ve just wasted game time with a combat where the outcome was never really in doubt. Warhammer really needs to at least give the GM some ideas as to what, fictionally, is a match for a party of characters.

All Together Now +

Warhammer’s got an excellent solution for fighting big crowds and for taking any monster and making a mob of them. No complex templates, no separate rules entry for a group of cultists instead of a single one.

Slim Pickings -

It’s a good thing there’s a simple way to make monsters a bit different by putting them in a group, because there aren’t that many to begin with. The core rules have three monsters each in a handful of categories (like beasts or demons), but that doesn’t leave a whole lot of variety without the GM making up new stuff. What would otherwise be a pretty low prep game is likely to eat up GM time just to make up creatures that provide a little variety.

The Crits -

What another system might call critical hits and misses come from special symbols on the dice in WFRP 3E called the Chaos Star and Sigmar’s Comet. It’s awesome to have some flavor around the stuff on the dice, but in the end they rarely have specific effects per power or location, instead falling back on some boring generic options.

What’s in the box? +

There’s a lot of great stuff in the box to get players (including GMs) thinking about cool stuff: character standups with evocative art, monster standups, cards for powers, weapons, status effects, locations. All kinds of stuff to inspire the table. The box set also includes everything for 3 players and a GM, and can easily be stretched for one or two more players. There are already a few games doing the same box set thing, like Freemarket, and I hope to see more.

What’s in the box? -

Yeah, same stuff, different rating. All those cool tools in the box have the downside of occasionally inhibiting creativity. I think I generally run pretty creative games, and I know the people I play with throw out great ideas left and right while gaming, but with WFRP we all had a tendency to think inside the box, literally using the stuff on the cards instead of thinking up our own fiction. As the GM, with all these cool little cards for locations, I found myself defaulting to making every encounter use a location on a printed card. It’s kind of that boardgame influence: I don’t think most people sit down to play The Arkham Horror and immediately start adding the locations they think are needed, and unless you keep that in mind you might play Warhammer the same way.

Bookkeeping +

Compared to your average RPG, there’s a not a lot to write down. I can see something like 4E being a lot to manage for a first time player without the Character Builder, trying to take notes on all their powers and such. Warhammer’s got a lot of brilliant ways of keeping you from having to take notes. It’s a shame that there’s a point buy part of character creation, otherwise it’d be almost like setting up a board game, something that a broader audience might really like.

Wrapping Up

Overall we had a great time, and I’d recommend the game. Particularly for those who don’t dig the epic feel of 4E but like the grabby bits of combat, Warhammer is definitely an option. It misses some opportunities, but overall it’s innovative and fun, definitely worth a try.

Sage LaTorra is a game designer and engineering manager at Google. You may know him from Dungeon World.

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