It doesn’t take me long, does it? Eight sessions of a system and I start thinking about tinkering with it…
The main causes of excess complexity in Warhammer are:
- Resource Management
- Action Cards
- The Dice
- Critical Wound Cards
Now, the dice are non-negotiable – they’re a core part of the reason WFRP3’s system is fun. I actually like the resource management ideas, so would prefer to keep them (though there are ways around them).
But the single biggest source of complexity is the use of Action Cards and their interaction with stances. So, I’ve been thinking about ways of dropping the cards and writing them out on a character sheet like a normal special ability in any other system, but somehow retaining the resource management system. The problem with this is that the cards are two-sided, so even a small number of cards takes up a lot of space on a character sheet.
The reason cards are two-sided is stances. So, we can simplify the card/stance system into a system that can be regularized on a character sheet quite easily, by reforming stances and regularizing cards.
We can reduce the complexity that stances introduce into the system by re-envisaging them as reflective of a kind of alignment (chaotic vs. lawful). Then at first level every character chooses an alignment and is only able to progress along that single stance direction (green or red). Careers then allow an increase in stance depth, but always to a maximum of one step per career.
This means that characters only ever have access to one side of an action card. So each action card potentially takes one line of a character sheet.
Reforming Action Cards
The next simple way to reduce complexity is to give action cards 6 possible lines only: 1 success, 3 successes, 2 boons, 2 banes, chaos star and sigmar’s comet. Then you can write a table on a character sheet with a column for each of these lines, a column at the end for recharge tokens, and a column for name. That’s it.
Each PC will start with the basic 6-8 cards, then a maximum of 2-3 from their development process and 2-3 from experience gained, so by the end of their second career they will still only need 15 rows in a table – easily set up on one page of a character sheet. Talents, of course, can easily be written on a character sheet, not as cards, which leaves only one set of cards relevant to the PC – wound cards. If we get rid of these, the PC is back to being represented by a standard character sheet.
In my experience so far, critical wounds tend to consist of a nice description along with an effect, which is usually a misfortune (black) die on ability checks. So we could get rid of cards and, when a player suffers a critical wound, they simply roll up the stat location and assign a misfortune die to that stat. There is currently a box above each ability score for fortune dice; you could put a second box below each ability score for misfortune dice. Then, when the total of your misfortune dice exceeds your toughness, you’re dead. Descriptions are left to the GM. We could also have the number of dice compound; so 2 misfortune dice on a single attribute turn into one challenge, and so on.
There are some critical wounds that do other things, and we’d be dropping them from the system, but that doesn’t really matter.
Having done this, all that remains as a card is insanity. Insanity is rare enough to be okay retained as a card.
Revising Resource Management
Some people think it’s unusual that PCs can’t use seemingly quite normal abilities every round, and one way to rethink this is to think of special combat attacks as requiring some kind of chi. A simple way to revise resource management would be to give all abilities a kind of chi cost, just as spells have a power/favour cost. This chi doesn’t have to be mystical – blocking someone with a shield may actually leave your arm stunned, or knocked aside, so you can’t recover quickly, so it’s mere physical strength. So we could switch the resource management system from recharge tokens to chi, which is always at an equilibrium equal to your toughness, and give all characters access to a Recovery action that works just like a Curry Favour action. Then instead of tracking recharges, they can use any action which requires chi less than their current total. Running out of points can easily be construed as losing energy, being put into a bad position, etc. The basic actions would require 0 points, of course, or maybe 1 point, since this guarantees that someone with 2 toughness (the minimum at first level) can conduct 2 actions in the first round and 1 every round thereafter, without using their recovery power.
Further Action Card Simplification: Feats
We could further simplify action cards by getting rid of them altogether, and having a basic set of actions that everyone can perform in combat. Players can then buy feats which change the difficulty of a line in a card, or give access to new lines. For example a fighter could use a feat to reduce the difficulty of extreme success from 3 successes to 2; and then could use another feat to buy a higher level of extreme success. These feats thus make the fighter better at basic attacks.
These feat purchases could vary by the stance you’ve selected. So Reckless stance characters find it very easy to buy better lines for boons, and to buy extreme successes, but hard to buy better lines for banes, chaos stars and the like.
PCs could also improve the basic outcomes of the existing actions using these feats, so e.g. you could use a feat to improve the outcome of a basic parry from a misfortune die to a challenge die.
The system could then introduce some common rules for firing into combat, using two weapons, casting spells in combat, etc. and apply these to everyone. Other special actions in melee would be entirely at GM discretion.
Then, the only action cards which would be necessary would be spells, which could be written in a separate spell book section.
Furthermore, since all the basic actions are available to all PCs every round, you could get rid of the resource management option altogether. You could also then get rid of recharge restrictions on parry/block/dodge, and instead say that if a PC has access to this basic action (due to meeting the conditions) they can always use each one against one enemy per round.
The big problem with getting rid of the resource management system on ordinary cards is that the delay symbols on conservative dice become meaningless. We can give conservative stance a continued difference to reckless stance by:
- In a chi-based management system of combat actions: the delay symbol means the card costs an extra point of chi
- In a feat-based system: the delay symbol becomes meaningless, so we weaken conservative actions a little
Eliminating Stances Altogether
I like the stance system, but another way to simplify the game is to just get rid of this, and to have conservative/reckless dice either drop out of the game altogether, or be substituted for attribute dice at the GMs discretion to represent PC behaviour, with the delay symbol stripped out. Then conservative dice might be added to PC rolls if they’ve got a good plan and they’re working well together; reckless symbols could be added if they tell the GM they’re going to launch the attack all gee-d up, without a plan… or if they go into a situation not knowing the layout of the battlefield, etc.
In this case you could still allow PCS to choose which side of a card they will use as their default action (written on the character sheet).
A secondary advantage of dropping these dice is that players take less time assembling dice pools.
I think these simplifications would strip a lot of the unique colour from WFRP3 but would make it faster to play, take less table space, and make the GM’s interpretations of dice effects even more important. It would also shift the game from its warhammer-specific feeling to a more generalized fantasy RPG feeling. GMs could encourage players to stunt ordinary actions, instead of hunting through decks for special cards, and to use the environment to add reckless or conservative dice to otherwise stance-less gaming.
The potential upshot of this would be that combat would become extremely quick (it’s already often quite fast) without losing its deadliness, and a lot of management faffery would go away. I don’t think the current level of management is extreme, but I’m sure many people differ with me on this, so it could be an easy way to make the system more generally fantasy-based, and quicker to play, as well as (potentially) more intuitive, while keeping Fantasy Flight Games’ unique contribution to the game – the dice!