I GM’d Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying 3rd Edition (WFRP3) on the weekend for a group of three players. It was my first time GMing in 18 months, the first time I have ever GM’d WFRP3 in English (up until now it has been Japanese). It was actually the first time I had GMd in English in 3 years, and because I was dropped into the role at the last minute I rehashed a session I’d previously run for Pathfinder, Strange Doings in the Steam Mountains (also last run in Japanese). A few notes about the session below, but first I thought I’d mention a problem I ran into with WFRP3’s system of rechargeable action cards, which is kind of obvious once you run into it but which I hadn’t thought about ahead and which if unresolved threatens to completely undermine the atmosphere of Warhammer worlds.

How to handle rechargeable healing spells outside of combat?

One of the PCs in Saturday’s adventure was a wizard of the Jade order, a kind of druid-like magician. One of his spells, The Gift of Life, is a healing spell that can be used in combat to heal (roughly) up to 4 wounds and (possibly) one critical wound, if successful. In combat it is quite balanced: it requires enough power to require a wizard to be at equilibrium to use it, it has a recharge value of 4 so can effectively only be used every 3 rounds, and its difficulty increases rapidly if one is engaged with a melee opponent or critically wounded. In the weekend’s first battle the main beneficiary of this was the wizard himself, who hid behind a secret door to heal himself, stepped out to fight, got wounded again, and ducked back behind the door to heal again. When the battle finished, he was still on half hit points and thus one hit away from death.

The problem arose after the combat ended, when the wizard was then able to heal himself, wait for the recharge, cast again, and keep going until himself and the rest of the party were fully healed. There is no daily limit on spell-casting, so there is no reason for him not to do this. Worse still, the spell offers the chance to heal critical wounds – the essential basis of WFRP3’s inbuilt deadliness – so if used continuously out of combat it essentially offers the party a way to regenerate completely after every encounter. Without it, WFRP3 is a very dangerous setting – without any healing, the wizard would have died in this battle, and the entire party would have been in dire straits after the second battle, when they went up against two steam Mephits. So the spell itself is quite a useful spell for ameliorating an otherwise extremely dangerous system. But how to prevent the recharge function from largely eliminating the threat in WFRP3? On Saturday night I allowed the wizard to fully heal himself and cast the spell once on every wounded party member, but obviously this is an arbitrary system, so I need to find a way to limit the spell and to put general limits on recharge effects outside of combat encounters.

I think there are a couple of ways to do this:

  • Implied daily limits: one option is to only allow any spell to be used once in between encounters. If one assumes about three encounters in a day and a spell being used at most twice per encounter, this gives an implied daily spell use limit of about nine times per day, without actually stating a limit. This is completely arbitrary – there’s no reason why a wizard should be able to cast a spell three times in the span of a combat but only once in the following three hours – but it solves the problem, and not just for healing spells
  • Actual daily limits: Another option – which could be good for limiting wizard spell use anyway – would be to put actual daily limits on how much a spell can be used. One way to do this would be to say each spell can only be used a number of times equal to the wizard’s willpower plus their rank, minus the spell’s recharge time. Gift of Life, with a recharge of four, would thus only be usable twice a day by the party’s wizard in this adventure. Magic dart – with a recharge of 0 – would be usable six times a day, which is a handy limit considering that Magic Dart is a nasty spell. This would also give more reason for a wizard to choose non-spell action cards, especially support cards which can sometimes function similarly to spells but using skills. The same tokens used to track recharges could easily be adapted to tracking the number of times a spell has been used. I think this goes against the feeling of WFRP3, however
  • Wound-specific limits: The option I think I’m going to settle on is to use wound-specific limits. That is, any one PC can only successfully cast a heal spell on any one set of wounds once. The recipient of the healing must then go out and get wounded again before they can enjoy the same person’s healing again. I think I will extend this to healing draughts as well, and will make it caster-, rather than spell-specific. In this case, the wizard can cast Gift of Life on a party member (sucessfully) out of combat once; the result of this roll represents the limit of the caster’s ability to tend to the given injuries. Then, when the healed PC goes back into combat and incurs another set of wounds, the caster can heal them again with Gift of Life or a different spell. The PC can separately consume their own healing draught (once), and other spell casters can try to heal that PC, plus any PC with first aid training can also attempt to attend to the injured PC’s wounds – but only once each. This approach to healing is consistent with the rules for the First Aid skill, which can only be applied once by each PC on each PC. It doesn’t limit the number of times a day the spell can be used through magical theory, but through the limitations of the particular injuries each recipient of the spell has suffered. I think this is more consistent with the feeling of WFRP3 rules, and, given that healing spells are quite weak, doesn’t prevent them being used freely in combat (provided the recipient is receiving fresh wounds).

Any of these solutions will work for healing spells, but the last solution may prove insufficient if the problem arises in other types of spell (item identification, teleportation, that sort of thing). I think this is a weakness of the rechargeable-action-card system, but it’s better to house rule it away than to ditch the system, because rechargeable action cards are a lot of fun in combat.

Another minor problem of WFRP3

It may be in the GM’s Toolkit (which I don’t own) but it seems to me that the designers of WFRP3 have put a lot of thought into the rules and how to work them, but haven’t put much thought into how to put all of it together when preparing adventures. With all the actions spread over cards in multiple packs, it’s really hard to work out how to organize e.g. a set of monster statistics for three separate encounters and how to keep track of monster actions for groups of monsters. If I have three separate types of monster in one encounter I have to gather together lots of cards from different locations and then keep them together with clips or folders or bags or something, then somehow return them to their original location when I’m done. I guess there are specialized card holders for this sort of thing, but in preparing for this adventure I had to make my own monsters (the gnome thieves) and find a way to lay them out together and manage them. I don’t feel that this has been settled in the rulesets I have – tips and advice would be appreciated! Also juggling monsters’ special actions in combat requires a lot of experience and attention, since you’re potentially managing several different monsters of several different types all with their own unique (and repeated) action cards. Also basic cards – block, parry and dodge – aren’t available in monster statblocks, so you have to track them in your head. Stat blocks need to be designed in a way that is as practical as the character sheet, and I don’t think they are.

Adventuring in the steam mountains

The adventure itself was fun and straightforward, getting halfway through before our 3 hour room slot was up. My aim is to use this adventure as an intro to a possible sandbox campaign in a small part of a larger world. I vaguely envisaged this world being Japanese-ish (continuing the onsen theme) but without much emphasis on any particular culture to start with, and I thought I’d let the players’ actions and decisions guide the introduction to the world. I also didn’t envisage it being in the Warhammer milieu per se (though undoubtedly given my inclinations, there’ll be a healthy dose of satanism, steampunk and dark powers).

The PCs were:

  • A Dwarven Troll-Slayer: Dwarves, it appears, are black-skinned and clean-shaven, though the Troll-slayer class retains its outcast status from Warhammer
  • An Elven Scout: Elves, it appears, are very tall (>2m), extremely skinny, and generally consistent with their European heritage
  • A Human Wizard: the human was skinny, pale, always cold, with spikey hair in a faint blue tone. So it appears that the default humans of the area are anime-standard

I haven’t decided yet whether the elf or the dwarf were travellers from far away, or if the steam mountains are on the border of three regions. I am tending towards the latter – borders mean lawless areas and strife after all. The onsen resort itself was an Australian-style rural estate, suggesting 18th-century level of building technology, so I’m wondering if the setting will be an 18th-century style semi-arid location, similar to that of Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword. Steam trains are an excellent addition to any setting, so it could be a good plan to set it in or on the cusp of the steam era.

Finally, it appears that gnomes are a bunch of greasy, tattooed criminal bastards, good at technology but sewer-mouthed and immoral. Kind of like East London gangsters, but shorter (if that’s possible). But that could just be because the only gnomes anyone will ever meet are a criminal gang from a single city, so it could be just an unfortunate stereotype – I haven’t decided on that yet.

I’m not sure, in any case, if I’ll get a chance to continue this adventure into a campaign, but if I do let’s see if I can have an orientalist outback pre-Victorian steampunk adventure with racially deterministic gnomes, and WFRP 3 rules. Sounds like fun!