I wrote a post sometime ago about the challenges of GMing Warhammer Fantasy Role-playing 3, and the possibility of simplifying it to make it easier to manage and quicker to run, or to apply it to high fantasy settings. Fantasy Flight Game’s new Star Wars RPG basically does this, by removing all the resource management and card-based elements of WFRP3 – replacing them with talent trees – and simplifying the dice pool. It also simplifies stress and fatigue, critical wounds, and character advancement. So I wonder, could the basic ideas from the Star Wars system be applied to simplify WFRP3 and make it quicker to run, and perhaps more suitable to a system with less careers and more character classes?
Replacing action cards with a talent tree
Looking at the list of action cards for melee combat on page 222 of the WFRP3 Player’s Guide, I notice that they all basically do the same thing: basic damage, or (with more successes) an extra manoeuvre or condition effect. For example, the Beat Back action forces the target to disengage on 2 successes, or to gain the sluggish condition. Meanwhile, the Cut and Run action enables you to disengage from melee and/or give the target the exposed condition. More powerful effects induce greater difficulty penalties (in misfortune dice) for using the effect. So basically the action cards represent tactical decisions which offer the chance to inflict a condition while risking a miss, and although they have a recharge cost, once you have 3 or 4 cards you’re pretty much guaranteed to be able to do something nasty every round.
So, could we replace the action card idea by simply putting these effects into a talent tree, assigning them a difficulty rank, and allowing the player who has chosen these effects to use them whenever he or she wants, given that they apply a number of misfortune dice equal to their difficulty rank? Does the recharge effect really make such a difference that it is worth making special cards to fiddle with?
For example, we could have a talent tree with the Cut and Run action on it. This is a rank 1 action (1 misfortune die to use) and when you use this action you gain the additional effect of being able to disengage if you get two or more boons; and being able to give the target the Exposed condition if you get sigmar’s comet. You can use this action as often as you want; the risk you run is that you will miss more often. Then, as PCs gain experience points they can buy more and more of these talents, which offer them diverse options in combat. There could also be a blanket rule that use of higher rank talents costs points of strain (see below) or carries an additional risk when more than a certain number of banes is rolled (e.g. a risk of strain equal to the rank of the card). This way PCs may have a limit on how much they can use cards in combat, or may have to use fortune points or other special abilities to be able to continue using special talents.
Replacing stress and fatigue with strain
Stress and fatigue are fiddly, but could easily be replaced by a single strain statistic that doubles as power points for wizards. In Star Wars, strain points appear to be calculated as 10+Willpower, so most WFRP PCs would start with 12-14 points of strain. Strain is incurred quite easily, through rolling banes in combat, through injury and effort, and through enemy effects (for example in Star Wars a stun grenade does 8 points of strain damage). We could use strain as a catch all exhaustion/manoeuvre store in WFRP, so that for example opting to use a higher rank talent costs its rank in strain points. This would mean that PCs with low willpower would very quickly need to stop using special techniques, at risk of exhaustion. We could also remove the recharge action of spell cards, making them instead cost a number of points of strain equal to the currently-assigned recharge cost of the card; or having all spells be free to use, but incur strain points when two banes are rolled. Since most wizards would have about 14 strain points, they would probably be able to cast 2-3 spells in a combat before having to rest; if the strain points were only incurred on a roll of two banes they would be likely to be able to cast more spells, but would be more likely to knock themselves out (because they would cast spells while just under their strain total, hoping to avoid the banes). Melee combatants would usually be able to control their strain, and stop using risky talents before they went unconscious; Wizards who risked incurring large quantities of strain on a two-bane roll would be prone to random unconsciousness, which would be exciting.
If we reformed WFRP to go down this route, we could also put a massive benefit on ranged weapon classes: we could rule that ranged weapon talents don’t incur any strain, but assign them higher difficulty costs (challenge dice rather than misfortune dice). Thus PCs who chose a mix of magic use and ranged weapons would be able to back out of combat when the strain grew too much, as would melee/ranged mixed fighters.
Using strain for magic also gets around the problem of wizards being able to use infinite numbers of healing spells outside of combat, since they would run the risk of strain. This would be especially good if you added insanity rules to the strain, so that wizards who go unconscious from excess spell-casting related strain must immediately draw a miscast card, and must draw an insanity card if they simultaneously roll a chaos star. This would give magic in WFRP two elements common seen in fantasy novels: wizards have to stop casting spells due to exhaustion, and wizards who push their magic too hard end up going insane. That’s why Gandalf refused to stop the rain in the Hobbit…
Simplifying critical wounds
The Star Wars system has a tiered system of four critical wounds: the first causes no extra harm, the second causes you to suffer a misfortune die on your next turn, the third causes you to suffer a misfortune die on all actions, and the fourth causes you to be incapacitated. For WFRP, a similar system could be used: every critical wound adds a misfortune die, every two misfortune dice are converted to a challenge die, and you die when your critical wounds exceeds your toughness. This is your basic death spiral, but gets rid of cards. The critical wound cards in WFRP have cute names but don’t add much that’s descriptive, so they aren’t that important as a tool. They’re just one more component you have to lug around.
Simplifying the dice pools
Dice pools can be simplified by dropping stances and their associated dice, using reckless and conservative dice instead as props which aid with frenzy, blessings and the like. Thus a dice pool consists of challenge and attribute dice, training dice, and fortune/misfortune dice. I would keep reckless and conservative dice to use as part of specific conditions, spell effects, and as rewards for stunts and tactical decisions: for example, if the PCs made a plan where they dug in and fought from a position of strength, they could upgrade to a conservative die provided they remain in their fortified position. Similarly, if a PC decided to do a reckless charge or fight with a stunt, they could upgrade one of their attribute dice to a reckless die. I’m not sure how to use the delay effect on the conservative die – with a one round initiative penalty, perhaps, or one round of gaining the Sluggish condition.
What is left
Once this reform is in place, all that is left to lug around are disease cards and miscast cards, both of which are fun to use. I would keep the progress tracker (I think it’s a good idea) and probably condition cards, though probably a character sheet could be designed with spaces for most conditions. I think the resulting system would be faster and easier for beginner players to pick up (though WFRP3 as it stands is pretty easy to come to terms with), but primarily it would be easier to set up and run, and much easier for the GM to manage – especially to manage monsters. In the next few weeks I might try a few character classes for this revised system, and see what happens to them.