The owner of my FLGS gave me a copy of Warhammer 3 (yes, in Steamy Beppu, the FLGS really is Friendly) to read so I can run a game in Japanese, so recently I’ve been reading it and doing some trial fights[1]. I don’t get to run a game until late June, but I think I can safely say from what I’ve seen so far that I really like. There are some pictures of the mechanics of the system here, but I’m going to give a full overview of the mechanics I’ve read so far in this post. By way of background information, it appears that the system has been licensed out to Fantasy Flight Games, but they have retained some of the basic flavour of the old game, so even though the mechanic is completely different, the rulebooks and some aspects of the skeleton of the character system are similar. Wounds, for example, are a roughly similar number to 2nd edition, toughness still acts as a soak to damage, you still use an ability score to determine skill use, and there are still 3 boxes next to each skill for training. The character classes and races are roughly similar, though they got rid of the Camp Follower, and ditched halflings (yay!) They retained racially specific classes like the Envoy, and magic has been beefed up a bit. They also retain the Warhammer worldview, so the maps are the same and they have quotes from famous figures in the world which retain the sense of ironic low-fantasy darkness from the original. The Tome of Mysteries, for example, has a section on magical theory penned by a wizard, which makes it clear that the wizard thinks that magicians, priests and demons all draw their power from the same source, while strenuously denying any such heresy. This is the sort of thing I like about Warhammer.

But it appears that the 3rd edition system actually reflects the underlying dubiousness of the world, and its deadliness, in a way that 2nd edition never did. So, here is my review of the system.

Bye bye shorty

There are no Halflings in the new version.

The dice and the standard mechanic

Warhammer 3rd edition uses dice pools, but it ditches standard dice, and instead introduces several new types of outcome, and scatters them at different rates across different dice. The dice are:

  • Attribute dice, which are blue d8s, you roll one of these for every point you have in an attribute, and they form the basis of skill checks. So if you have Strength 4, you roll 4 attribute dice for any skill based on strength. These are good dice.
  • Expertise dice, which are yellow d6s. You add one of these to your dice pool for every level of training you have in a skill. These are good dice.
  • Challenge dice, purple d8s. You add one of these for every level of difficulty of the skill check. These are bad dice.
  • Stance dice, red or green d10s, which represent the effect of being in a conservative or reckless stance (see below). You exchange attribute dice for these, so if you are two steps into a conservative stance you switch two blue d8s for 2 green d10s. These dice are better than attribute dice, but they carry a risk: conservative dice minimise the risk of bad outcomes but increase the risk of delay, while reckless dice increase the risk of bad outcomes as well as good ones
  • Fortune dice, white d6s, which you add to the roll using fortune points. Specialisation in a skill, or helpful environmental effects, also add these dice to a roll
  • Misfortune dice, black d6s, which are added to the roll when it is opposed by an opponent’s action (e.g. a parry) or the environment, or if your opponent uses fortune to oppose your roll.

Each die can have several outcomes:

  • success (represented by a hammer)
  • Challenge (crossed swords)
  • Bane (skull)
  • Boon (angel wings)
  • nothing (blank face)
  • chaos (a chaos star)
  • Sigmar’s comet (a comet)

Your roll is successful if you get more successes symbols than challenges. Boons also have good results (e.g. criticals), and banes can have bad ones (e.g. suffering a wound from your enemy). Banes and boons can cancel. Chaos and Sigmar’s comet are particularly bad or good outcomes. So if , for example, you roll 4 hammers, 3 crosses swords, 3 angel wings and a skull, your end result is 1 success and 2 boons, which in a standard combat attack would be normal damage and a critical.

Probabilistic analysis of this is going to suck.

Actions and talents

Every character class gets to choose certain actions, written on cards, and talents. Talents can be used once per session to get some benefit; actions have a recharge rate (in rounds) ranging between 0 and 5, and each action card has two sides, one green (for an action in conservative stance) and one red (for an action taken under a reckless stance). Each card lists the benefits of success, various levels of benefit associated with different numbers of boons, and bad outcomes for banes, chaos, etc. Each character has a set of basic actions (block, melee strike, manoeuvre) but then additional actions they can choose to use. When you use an action with a recharge time, you put cute skull-shaped counters on it and remove one at the end of each round. In my trial combat I used block (with a shield), that has a two round recharge, but then I used the sword and board attack, which has a 3 round recharge, but if you get a few boons in your roll it completely refreshes your block action. This is the mechanic of actions, and it strikes me that it’s quite an effective way of keeping track of round-to-round effects. It’s also a good way of keeping your powers managed, and giving them multiple outcomes depending on the stance you’re in. I like this.

Stances

Your character starts the game in a neutral stance but can choose to move into a conservative or reckless stance. Different classes have different stance tracks – my trial PC, a roadwarden, can go two steps in either direction, but other characters have different approaches. Some actions work better in one stance than another, and you can check which is better by looking at your cards. According to the book, for example, the accurate shot action is better in a conservative than a reckless stance. I like this too, it gives players diversity in handling situations, and gives the GM a context in which to set action descriptions. The game also provides some counters that you assemble to form a “stance tracker” which you use to keep track of where your stance is at. I like the mechanical aids in this game, they are really actually useful.

The Progress Track

This is another game aid, constructed by the GM out of cardboard pieces, which shows the progress of a challenge, skill check, scenario or series of events. Counters are set on the track, representing the party and the opponents, and the GM moves them according to time increments and/or skill checks. Whoever gets to the end of the progress track first wins the challenge, so for example if the track represents a pursuit, PCs and NPCs move along the track according to challenged skill checks, and if the NPC gets to the end of the progress track first he/she has escaped.

I’m not sure if this will be easy to use in practical gaming, but I can see the purpose of the idea and the possible benefits. I shall report back on it when I have tried it.

Magic and monsters

I haven’t tried magic yet but the main aspects of it that I can see are:

  • It’s more powerful than in 2nd edition
  • It retains the edge of risk and miscasting
  • If anything it’s rendered more risky by the role of fatigue, stress and insanity
  • It seems to have a strong feeling that suits the warhammer world

Stress, fatigue and insanity

The game has an excellent and very powerful mechanism for fatigue. For example, my trial PC had an excellent action called execution shot which enables the PC to use a close-quarters missile shot and a melee attack in the same round, if she is carrying a pistol and a sword at the same time. But when combat started she had shield and pistol, so she wanted to swap out the shield and draw the pistol. Doing so requires two manoeuvres, and in order to do this and move into a reckless stance[2], she had to make 2 more manoeuvres than she was eligible for. So she spent two fatigues and gained two extra manoeuvres, problem solved… until some action failed and she incurred 2 more fatigues. As soon as your fatigue score exceeds  a physical ability, you incur a penalty of one misfortune die on all rolls – which increases the risk of subsequent fatigues. Then she copped a critical that caused another fatigue, and now her chances of doing anything successfully are very low. In subsequent fights, I made sure to be careful with these fatigue accumulations, because they get prohibitive fast. The same mechanism exists for stress, which is applied to mental abilities. If your stress exceeds twice your willpower, you risk insanity, which is initially temporary but can become permanent. I think magic use carries a high risk of insanity and stress, and there are even character classes (like the Witch Hunter) which you cannot take until you have incurred a permanent insanity.

Deadliness

Based on trial combats so far, against orcs and various levels of beastman, this game is deadly, at least for first level characters. The battles proceed rapidly to a dismal end, and vicious stuff happens quite fast. You can incur fatigues, criticals, and significant penalties on your next action very quickly, and then it’s all downhill. Whether this continues at higher levels I’m not sure, but I’ll be keeping an eye on it.

Drawbacks

The most obvious drawback is that the talent cards, action cards and special dice mean you have to buy the company’s product, and the initial product only provides enough stuff for 3 players, so if you have 5 players you have to buy an expansion pack containing more of these key ingredients. The game is expensive (about 10000 Yen), but I don’t think this is the end of the world, because it’s assumed that 4 people will be sharing the one box, which at 2500 Yen each isn’t the end of the world. However, if you run out of counters or action cards it sucks a bit. I also suspect that at higher levels and in hard combats the dice pool will be very complext to read, but after a few battles I was able to understand the dice pool quite quickly, so it’s maybe not the end of the world. Physically laying out your characters is also a bit of a pain, but on the upside they have designed it well to enable you to access all your information easily. I think the method of handling second careers could be a bit of a pain, though.

Presentation

The books look nice and all the associated material (cards, dice, counters, cardboard figures) are great. The editing of the game is a bit shoddy, and the rules are sometimes a bit vague (handling specialisations seems to have been reduced to a single sentence, so I had to do some guessing). However – and I believe, most importantly – the book tries hard to keep the flavour of the previous two versions of the game, with quotes on every few pages and regular reference to the world of Warhammer. The quotes and the sense of dark confusion and chaos have always been a very good aspect of Warhammer, and this game has retained them admirably.

Conclusion

It seems good, possibly too complex, and I’m not sure if the mechanic will hold up under the pressure of high-level gaming. I’ll give a further definitive opinion once I’ve run a session – stay tuned!

fn1: which involves saying to your partner when she comes in, “This isn’t what it looks like! I’m not so sad that I’m role-playing with myself!”

fn2: If you’re juggling a shield and a dodgy pistol mid-combat, you are by definition in a reckless stance!

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