For some time now I’ve been thinking about ways to simplify the Warhammer 3 (WFRP3) system to make it less cumbersome and more free-flowing, while retaining the basic structure of attributes and skills. I previously described dropping action cards and moving to a more skill-based system, and also simplified ways of calculating difficulty. This, combined with simple talent trees similar to the Star Wars system, makes for a much quicker, easier game system, which I have tried and enjoyed in a few brutal and enjoyable adventures.
I’ve also previously described some of the problems of dice pools, in particular the difficulty of establishing difficulties that are balanced to the dice pools, the challenge of large opposed dice pools in games like Shadowrun and World of Darkness, and the problem of combining skill and attribute for defense and attack in opposed skill checks. As an example, WFRP3 has managed to solve the problem of balancing difficulties through using multiple different kinds of dice, but doesn’t really incorporate skill training into defense at all, or at least not in the same way it does in attack.
I’m still not convinced that these general problems can be solved, but yesterday while thinking about a serious probability problem at work, I had a sudden idea for a way of constructing dice pools with WFRP3 fortune and misfortune dice, combined with a single normal polyhedral die, that gets around a lot of these problems and makes a simple alternative to all the complex dice pools of the common systems. Much of this idea is derived from the Degenesis system, which I’ve now had some experience playing (and which is pretty cool).
The WFRP3 fortune and misfortune dice
These dice are white (fortune) and black (misfortune) six sided dice with three faces blank and the remaining three faces divided between two symbols in unequal proportion. On the fortune dice there are two eagles and one hammer; on the misfortune dice there are two skulls and one crossed sword. In WFRP3 the hammer/crossed swords are a success/failure, and the eagle/skull are good/bad luck. These dice are added onto the pool to represent good or bad conditions, or specific talents. It’s quite easy to develop a dice pool with 6 or more of both (WFRP3 dice pools are generally epic). If converted to a standard d6, one could imagine that the eagle/skull are 4 and 5, and the hammer/crossed swords are 6. But why use normal dice? Skulls and eagles are way cooler.
I actually tried using these dice for Degenesis, since the probability structure matches, but 1s are also important in Degenesis for determining fumbles, so I gave up on that.
A challenged dice pool system with black and white dice
Suppose that we are using standard WFRP3 characters, so they will have attributes between 2 – 4, usually, and 0-2 levels of training. Adding these together we get a sum, usually, between 2 and 6. Players construct a dice pool with as many fortune dice as this total, and the GM provides them a number of misfortune dice determined by the same method for the enemy. The player rolls them all and removes all matching skull/eagles and hammer/swords. If the player has any eagles left over, the roll is considered a success. Any left over hammers do not count as successes, but instead increase the effect of the roll (we will refer to this increase as the effect).
For example, suppose a PC with attribute 3 and 1 training attacks an enemy with attribute 2 and no training. The player rolls 4 fortune dice and 2 misfortune dice. Suppose the player rolls two eagles and a hammer, and also one skull. Skull cancels eagle and this leaves behind one eagle (success) and one hammer (plus one damage). The player is attacking with a hand weapon (damage 5 + ST=8), so with the +1 for the hammer the total damage becomes 9.
Using a polyhedral die for fumbles and criticals
Now add a single polyhedral die to the roll. Suppose it is a d8. If this d8 comes up with an 8 the result becomes a critical success (if the player got at least one eagle) or a fumble (if the dice pool rolls up at least one skull). The size of the polyhedral die can be determined by GM fiat, or it could be set as e.g. the smallest dice size greater than equal to the dice pool, ensuring that as dice pools grow in size the probability of extreme successes declines. Obviously, the opposite could also be applied.
Enhancing the role of skills
In this system skill training will still tend to be less influential than attributes, since typically skill levels are lower than attributes. This can be slightly adjusted by adding two simple rules:
- Hammers can only enhance the effect of an attack if the PC has training in the skill
- Critical success is only possible if the attacker has training in the skill
- Critical failure is only possible if the defender has training in the skill
In the above example, the target has no skill and so if the attacker rolls an 8 but somehow doesn’t get the necessary eagles to succeed, there is no critical failure; however, if the attacker rolls an 8 and does get the necessary eagles for success, that success will be critical. This still doesn’t quite balance the role of skill training in defense but it does allow it to be included to some extent.
Skill could be given even more salience by a rule that hammers/swords can only be counted if the person has training – so if you are defending without training, you cannot cancel out any effect that the attacker rolls.
Deciding penalties and bonuses
Penalties and bonuses can be assigned in three ways: Through automatic successes assigned by the GM, through extra dice assigned by the GM, or through extra effect. For example, a stealth attack might give the PC an automatic success, being in cover might give the defender extra dice, and attacking from a horse might give extra effect. The GM could also allow stunting to change the magnitude of the polyhedral critical die, to reflect increased or reduced risk. So swinging into battle on a chandelier might drop the critical die from a d8 to a d4, indicating that if you succeed in your attack you’ll be highly likely to really do a big smackdown, but if you fail you’re going to get badly hurt.
Carrying over effect
Similarly to Rolemaster and Degenesis, you can easily allow one roll to affect another, or one PC to help another, simply by allowing the effect of one roll to be carried to the next, if it is successful. So a successful stealth check will add its effect onto the damage of the backstab; a successful intimidate check would apply its effect to subsequent morale checks by underlings. If one PC opts to help another in e.g. brewing a potion, then the effect of that PC’s cooking skill check could be applied to the main PC’s craft item check. In some situations the GM could choose to treat this carry-over as extra dice or guaranteed successes (if, e.g. the stealthy player were also invisible).
Notes and justification
This dice pool system balances out success and effect, so that a person with a limited dice pool attempting to beat a person with a similar dice pool has a fair chance of success but is highly unlikely to really get a big outcome (as opposed to e.g. D&D where success and outcome are largely unrelated). It ensures that people with very widely differing dice pools are likely to have predictable outcomes, getting around one of the big problems of WFRP3, where the challenge dice can behave in radically unexpected ways, or D&D/Rolemaster/Cyberpunk where the uniform distribution makes failure too common for people with good skills. It allows skill to work in attack and defense, though not perfectly, and in a simpler way than the Star Wars system. It allows for critical success but ties it to skills, but without making it too easy to achieve with high training as happens in WFRP3. By using the fortune/misfortune dice it makes dice pools easy to read and calculate (you just take away all matching dice). It is also very flexible for applying situational modifiers, luck, magic and stunting in a wide variety of ways.
I think the main down side would be the very large dice pools for high level characters, the potential weak roll of skill for characters with high attributes, and the fiddliness of distinguishing between skulls and hammers (not a big deal for me but in large dice pools people often mistakenly match things). I think these aren’t insurmountable problems and with the standard WFRP3 character progression process, skills are much more likely to advance than attributes, so the importance of skills will grow over time. Overall I think it would be a simple and flexible alternative to WFRP3’s ridiculous dice pools, that would not require any change to the major elements of character creation and progression. This dice pool system, if combined with the dropping of action cards and simplification of character definitions, would make for a fast and flexible alternative to standard Warhammer – with all the fun of dice pools composed of skulls and eagles!