Yesterday I GM’d a session of Warhammer 3rd Edition (WFRP 3), the next instalment in the Steamlands Campaign, but this time due to a lack of space and the ongoing fragmentation of my card collection I decided to implement some of the ideas I’ve been working on to simplify WFRP 3. Today we used the following:

  • Drop all active defenses and basic melee combat cards
  • Drop all more complex action cards that don’t involve a unique benefit: so e.g. Thunderous Blow is out, but Riposte is kept (since it gives a second attack)
  • Calculate combat difficulty from attributes, instead of using “one challenge die plus defense” rules
  • Allow players to use all their talent cards, not just the slotted ones
  • Make exhaustable talents a once-per-encounter phenomenon (most encounters being less than 5 rounds anyway)
  • Enhance fortune points: they now add expertise rather than fortune dice
  • Allow the expenditure of fatigue to gain bonus fortune dice
  • Fortune and misfortune dice cancel before rolling, to simplify dice pools
  • Number of successes on a melee attack acts as a damage bonus
  • Critical cards are for fluff only: all criticals are simply a +1 difficulty (i.e. one misfortune die) per critical suffered
  • Enemies also suffer criticals

Two players made new PCs for this session, so they selected only action cards that give an identifiable non-attack effect in combat. Cards selected were:

  • Riposte, which enables a free melee attack in response to a missed attack
  • Counterblow, which does the same for someone blocking
  • Twin pistols, which I now treat as a special ability (it has no recharge): add one challenge die to the dice pool to attack with two pistols
  • Who’s next? Which gives allies additional attacks or enables a cleave-like attack after killing someone
  • Berzerker Rage, which should be fairly obvious
  • Combat focus, which gives the user a bonus on attack rolls (not damage)

These cards enable the players to have more freedom to act and special benefits in combat, rather than simply making them do more damage or adding conditions as after-effects of successful attacks.

The result of this was a faster, more dynamic combat scene. The revised rules encouraged use of fortune points and fatigue, and made managing fatigue more crucial; big dice pools enable greater damage (there is no 3-success limit to damage as occurs on the cards), so in one case I think the biggest warrior did 17 points of damage (and one enemy bandit nearly did the same). The combat was over in four rounds but was just as dangerous: all three PCs were critically injured, one was unconscious and one incurred a temporary insanity. The whole battle – between three PCs and 12 enemies in an ambush from three directions, with one group fleeing and having to be chased – took just one hour (or maybe less) and everyone was able to stay focused through the whole thing. Managing enemies was much easier for me, since I didn’t have to worry about cards and the like. There was no faffing at the end of rounds, as I think only two cards (Berzerker Rage and Combat Focus) needed to have recharge tokens removed, and there was no fussing with talent cards or active defenses. Calculating hit targets was easy – players just tell me their attribute and defense score – and converting misfortune dice into challenge dice (at two-for-one rates) reduced dice pool sizes. The increased numbers of challenge dice also increased the number of chaos stars, so at last someone’s black powder weapon blew up[1].

I think the revised rules will also make enemies slightly more dangerous if they have attributes much bigger than the PCs, which means forces will be more evenly matched. For example, one bandit had a strength of 5 that he could use to defend with, which in the revised rules means 2 challenge dice and one misfortune die added to the dice pool. For an attacker with strength less than 5 this is going to be a tough target, and in fact in order to kill this guy the players had to use fatigue and fortune points to bolster attacks. Under the standard rules this guy would have been no more difficult to hit than any of his minions, and making him harder to hit would require me faffing with a variety of action cards.

Although I’m not fully assured of its effect on game balance, I like the effect of simplification on combat flow. I’m thinking of dropping armour-based defense scores too (making armour provide only soak values) to further simplify the combat resolution task. I’m also watching the revised collection of action cards to see if they’re worth the effort. But as a first attempt at speeding up and streamlining WFRP 3, the changes seem to have worked, and rescued the game from being crushed under the weight of its own innovations.

fn1: actually now I think about it, in the standard rules it is almost impossible for a black powder weapon to blow up. Most are Unreliable 2, which means you need two chaos stars to blow them, but chaos stars only occur on challenge dice and in most ranged combat situations you will only ever throw one challenge die. The standard rules make the difficulty of a ranged combat attack 1 challenge die + 1 misfortune per point of defense, so unless you’re using a card with additional challenge dice (of which there are few) you will never bow up your weapon.