Warhammer RPGs

At this coming HelgaCon I will be running a Warhammer FRPG (2nd edition) game.  Originally meant to be a concession to Jenn as this is her favorite system and about the only one she will actually play anymore, it actually also turned out to be the most popular choice when I sent a list of games I was considering running to all the HelgaCon attendees.  This might have something to do with the fact that the game will feature skaven PCs, which is something I’ve only ever done once before (at last HelgaCon), but could also be just a general desire for some variety at the convention.  Or maybe everyone secretly loves Warhammer, I don’t know.

I have some problems with Warhammer FRPG, and though at the convention I’ll likely run it as by the book as possible, I can’t help but sometimes contemplate how I’d modify the system to my liking if I were to ever run another campaign of it.  Warhammer FRPG really strongly relies on a skill system, and as I’m sure my readers are aware, I dislike skill systems.  This is further complicated by talents, of which some are very cool, others simply apply bonuses into skills, and some act as gateways into actions that nobody can do without the talent, such as knocking someone unconscious, which I think is a terrible idea.  It’s such a mixed bag I don’t know how to glean the good from it without also taking along the awful.  Finally, I think the combat system is too complex.  There’s too much rolling, and too much opportunity for all that rolling to come to nothing.  This is especially true at higher power levels, when both combatants have multiple attacks with huge weapon skill and parry/dodge percentages.

I was contemplating this problem in the shower this morning (where I do all my best thinking), and the number of house rules required to get 2nd edition to a place I really liked was a bit staggering.  I thought about 1st edition briefly, but it not only has all the same issues, it has them in a more confused and jumbled presentation, such that it didn’t seem worth bothering.  Then it struck me: what about Warhammer Quest?

Warhammer Quest is a board game.  It’s probably the best co-op dungeon crawl board game I know of, but still a board game.  It does come with a “roleplay book” though, which I’ve always looked at as a collection of optional rules that can be tacked onto the board game to add complexity (it includes city trips between dungeon crawls, advancement rules for the characters, tougher monster charts, etc.)  The last few chapters introduce the concept of a GM and start to really push the thing into the realm of RPGs, an idea I always skoffed.  Why wouldn’t I just play a “real” RPG at that point?

Well, now that I look at it, Warhammer Quest as an RPG actually presents a lot of the simplifications I would want.  It has no skill system.  Combat is quick and easy.  Advancement simply grants better core stats and “skills” which really aren’t skills at all, but more like talents.  You generally gain them at a rate of one per level, and a couple examples include (from the Elf skills): Rapid Fire (+1 attack with missile weapons) and Sureshot (Re-roll one missed missile attack).  The skill list for each class is unique, and Wizards don’t get them at all, instead they get more spells.  While most of these skills simply add combat abilities, it would probably be pretty easy to cherry-pick the cool talents out of 2nd edition WFRPG and drop them into various class skill lists.

OK, so what’s missing from WQ that I would want to bring over from WFRPG?  Well, first there are two core stats I’d want to carry over: Agility and Fellowship.  This gives you a nice range of general stats to test against for pretty much any action a player wants to take.  I’d have to somehow adapt these to the d6 oriented type of stats present in WQ as opposed to the percentile stuff from WFRPG.  Also as stat granularity is pretty course in WQ, there’s no random generation of stats.  Do I want to do anything about that?  I’m not sure.

Finally, there’s the career system.  This is one of the biggest charms of WFRPG, for me at least.  Ultimately it’s really just a class system, each player has one career and it dictates what stats, skills, advances, etc. to which you have access.  The interesting thing is that it does set up a system for changing class as you progress: once you fill out one career you jump to the next one.  WQ definitely also has a class system, though it’s not called such in the game.  In the core book there are only 4: dwarf, elf, wizard, and barabarian.  There are several expansions that add new classes like imperial noble, elf ranger, etc.  I suppose it might be possible to just go through the WFRPG list of careers and adapt each one to a WQ class.  You might even make a system for jumping careers, though I’m not convinced that would be easy or even desirable.

Hmm, an interesting thought experiment.  I’m not sure I’d pursue this though without hearing a fair amount of player buy-in.  Which is to say, Jenn would have to think this is a pretty fantastic idea before I bothered tinkering with it more.  And I’m not sure that would really happen, as she likes skill systems.

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12 Comments

  1. Bah. Warhammer needs no improving!

    Really? Combat is complicated? Maybe I’m just too used to it, but it’s pretty much the only system where I remember what the heck I have to do/roll during combats!

    Or maybe it’s because my characters always die before they get more than one attack….

    1. Maybe complicated was the wrong word. What I really don’t like about it is that it’s slow. It takes forever for either side to go down, and the more powerful the opponents, the longer it takes. I mostly blame the parry/dodge mechanic for this. It’s too easy to have lots of dice rolls that result in nothing happening. I want a single die roll that indicates hit or miss, and then move on.

      Also, while I do really like the critical hit mechanic, I think it also slows things down considerably. I’d prefer to adapt the system I’m using in my D&D games now, which is based on the warhammer system, but much simplified.

  2. Warhammer is a great example of one of my other pet peeves with most Role Playing games: Way too high chance of failure.

    In most RPGs, especially at low level, the success rate for any given action is around 25-30%. Even for something your character is supposed to be good at, like moving silently or hitting things with a sword. And often this low success rate continues as you reach higher levels, as the challenges increase in difficulty.

    I think it’d be a lot more fun if players typically succeed at whatever they’re trying 80% of the time. Then the drama is from failing.

    The best analogy I can think of for what I’m talking about is the Final Fantasy style computer RPGs. In these games, you hit with your attacks over 90% of the time. When you do miss, it’s either because you’ve been afflicted with something like Blind, or it’s a rare miss and it adds a lot of interesting dramatic tension.

  3. But the failure is why Warhammer is Warhammer – it’s a Grim and Perilous world! Characters aren’t great superheroes, wandering around saving the world – they’re ordinary people, who are slightly better at something than most – maybe you actually know which end of the sword to hold – which is why they’re going to out to fight the local Chaos worshippers, while the rest of the village hides in their huts.

    Which is what makes actually succeeding at something so much better.

    I personally like when my chances of blowing up half of Middenheim are better than my chances of actually stopping the bad guys. Though, hey, either way, they’re stopped to some degree….

  4. Yeah, the darkness of Warhammer is part of it’s appeal. I grant you that.

    However, my point about “failing being the normal course of actions” is more of a general complaint. It’s really tedious to go around the table and have 3 our of 4 players fail whatever they try. And if you’re the one guy who goes the entire combat without actually rolling successfully once, it’s very boring and discouraging.

    You can keep a dark & depressing tone without relying on the dice to reinforce it. Continuing the Final Fantasy analogy: yes, your warrior lands a solid blow every round for 100 damage, but the enemy has 10,000 hit points. So it still takes a long time to whittle them down (especially with regular attacks for 100 dmg…need to use other more damaging abilities on occasion).

    Look at it this way, from a Warhammer perspective. What would be more soul-sucking and terrifying:

    1) Facing off against a demon from the northern wastes, and never being able to land a blow because it’s too big and strong.

    2) Facing off against a demon from the northern wastes, and every round your entire team manages to hit it with swords, guns, and table legs, but it still doesn’t go down…

  5. I see what you’re saying, Joe, but, personally, the second one there is WAY more frustrating to me! It’s like “Ok, we’re hitting him, WHY WON’T HE DIE??” 😉

  6. The question of what the rate of success should be is interesting, but a bit tangential to my issue. What I’m really concerned about with Warhammer combat is the number of rolls and steps that it takes to resolve. A single attack includes the following sequence:

    1. Attacker makes attack roll.
    2. Defender rolls to parry or dodge.
    3. Attacker rolls damage.
    4. Attacker dictates hit location based on table lookup derived from original hit roll (digits reversed).
    5. Defender deducts toughness/armor.
    6. Damage is deducted from wound total.
    7. If wounds go below 0, critical hit is rolled.
    8. Critical effect is determined by cross referencing two charts based on critical hit roll, hit location, and amount of damage below 0 sustained.

    Add to that a potential for multiple attacks and special kinds of attacks, no wonder it takes so long to resolve combat. Compare that to my current system in D&D:

    1. Attacker makes attack roll.
    2. Roll is compared to required value based on defender’s AC.
    3. Attacker rolls damage.
    4. Damage is deducted from hit point total.
    5. If hit points go below 0, critical hit is rolled and effect looked up on table.

    Note that step #5 is my own addition to try and reduce deadliness in my D&D games. By the book, D&D is half as many steps to resolve an attack, and most people don’t get multiple attacks. That’s reserved for certain nasty monsters.

  7. @Paul – I still think all the steps in WH only take long w/ new players. By the end of our last campaign, it certainly never felt that each person’s turn took forever.

  8. To Joe’s question, I honestly have to answer that I find (1) more terrifying.

    To flesh out a bit more in how my brain evaluates it — In that first case, if I do an expected-value calculation for when it should go down, then I get “undefined” (truly unknowable). In the second case, I would instead get some positive numerical quantity, and then basically be doing a budgeting process of whether we can live that long or not. (Assuming creature health is known or estimable.)

    Like my standing on luck points, I’d rather be dead or a TPK, and then take a break or start making up new PCs, than having a long drawn-out war of attrition. (Weigh this appropriately in how I mostly play one-off conventions and not long campaign character development these days.)

  9. @Jenn:
    Completely agree!!! Warhammer’s appeal is that the ‘heroes’ are more like real people than the demi-gods of other systems. They are flawed and if they live and triumph the victory is real because the odds are generally stacked against them. If they simply succeed all the time how on earth is that ‘grim’ or ‘perilous’ at all?

  10. @Joe:
    Sigmars Bollock please do not reference final fantasy in a discussion on Warhammer!!! There is NO COMPARISON between Warhammer and that gender-confused japanese nonsense.

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