In yesterday’s post I talked about my desire to redesign the Warhammer Fantasy Role-playing 2nd Edition (WFRP 2) rules so that they are less punishing of PC actions, and introduced the problem of asymmetry in task resolution. Following on my list of principles for good RPG skill systems, I’d like to propose a simple reformation of the WFRP 2 skill resolution system that does the following:
- Removes as much as possible the asymmetry in task resolution
- Streamlines task resolution to make it quicker and easier
- Works in and out of combat
- Makes skills more likely to work
- Gives flexibility to the GM in how hard they want to make their WFRP world
- Doesn’t require any significant changes to the remainder of the system
Basically I want to propose a different dice + skill system that can be slotted into the existing WFRP2 system in such a way that pretty much everything stays the same and the books can be used as is. In the end I think my proposed skill system simply requires that you divide all attributes by 10 on character creation and make a couple of relatively trivial tweaks to the advance scheme for the PCs, which are sufficiently simple that you hardly need to think about them.
Some baseline ideas about how skills should work in Warhammer
The chart above shows the basic problem in resolving skills using the existing system. This chart shows the probability of succeeding in an opposed skill check for a person with a given stat value, against someone with the same stat value (I have divided stats by 10 for simplicity). Here you can see that the success rate peaks at 25% for a person with a stat of 50 against a person with a stat of 50. Bear in mind that for a person with a stat of 90, a standard unopposed action will be successful 90% of the time. I aim to reform the skill system so that:
- When people with very high skills oppose other people with very high skills, the outcome should be a real lineball – so that if the task was repeated many times, the outcome would be largely 50/50. Think of two equally matched rugby teams with a long history of games – on average they should have a 50% success rate each
- In general the difficulty of an opposed skill check should be conformal with some kind of objective standard of unopposed skill checks
I would further extend the first point to say that, for simplicity and playability, when a person of stat value X opposes someone of equal stat value, they should get a 50% chance of success (i.e. that figure should be flat). This may not reflect reality, but it’s important for players to be able to have some certainty in their skills. Also think of it like this: someone always wins at chess. When two equally terrible players play chess, someone wins, even if the game looks terrible.
The alternative system: Traveler-like 2d6 with scaled attributes
To achieve this, I propose a simple skill check based on attributes scaled by a factor of 10 and broadly similar to Traveler. In this revised system attributes range from 1 to 10, i.e. they are the original attributes divided by 10, and are on the same scale as Toughness. In this system the player initiating the skill check rolls 2d6 and adds their stat plus attribute plus modifiers, and compares the result against a target threshold number that is 8 + the opposing PC’s attribute. This means that an untrained PC testing a skill against an untrained PC with the same attribute always requires an 8 or more on 2d6 to get success, i.e. has a 41% chance of success.
For non-opposed actions, simply assign every action a difficulty from 0 to 10, and make the threshold for success equal to 8+difficulty. By setting the difficulty of a standard action to 4 you ensure that a person with a stat of 4 is able to successfully complete that action 40% of the time, just like in the standard WFRP 2 rules. A person with a stat of 3 would need to roll a 9 to get this standard action done, which is equivalent to a probability of completing this standard action of 28%, approximately the same as the WFRP 2 rules; for a person with a stat of 2 the probability becomes 17%, so still close. Thus the success curve for a standard action is consistent with the standard outcomes of skill checks in WFRP 2.
If you want to change the difficulty of all tasks, simply change the base for difficulty. If you want a heroic campaign, shift the base from 8 to 7; if you want grimdark, make it 9. If you want to change the relative difficulty of opposed vs. unopposed skill checks, simply either change the rating assigned to a standard task to 3 or 5; or increase the base, and reduce the difficulty of a standard task.
In WFRP 2 difficulty modifiers act as 10% bonuses or penalties to a PC’s attribute, and these are approximately mimicked (except in extreme cases) by a unit change in the difficulty of a task, or by a +1 or -1 on the roll. Training can be incorporated as a +1.
There are several advantages to this system:
- Toughness bonus and strength bonus disappear, with strength and toughness attributes serving as their own bonuses
- Magic attribute can be used directly for skill checks, including for magic
- Movement allowance can be used for skill checks, and especially for defense against missile attacks
- Difficulty of unopposed actions can be related directly to opposed skill checks
- Early magic is easier, and later magic harder, than in the basic rules
- It would be fairly easy to standardize difficulty checks for spells by arranging them into levels
- The biggest and nastiest spells are only available to the highest level characters
- Only one dice roll per check
This system also allows for the effect of the skill check to affect actions and attacks. For example, in the original system on the few occasions that one actually hits in combat, one has to roll d10 for damage and add it to the base weapon damage, which is usually strength bonus – 3 or something similar. In the revised system, instead of rolling that d10, one could simply add the effect of the roll to the PC’s strength and then apply the penalty. This enables PCs with very high attack bonuses to soon overwhelm their opponents, and removes the extreme element of randomness in current weapon damage. Thus for a pPC with a hand weapon and average strength (stat 4) attacking an opponent with the same weapon skill as themselves, they need an 8 to hit and so will do between 4 and 8 points of damage. Thus against a person with average toughness (stat 3 or 4) they will usually do some damage unless that person is wearing really heavy armour.
This effect can be applied fairly easily to lots of magic as well, if desired.
Changing career advances
The career advance sheet can be used basically as it is, with a 10% advance counting as a single advance for the character. Having scaled all attributes by a factor of 10, there are no longer 5% increments in attribute, which means that these advances need to be dropped, rounded up or combined into a single attribute. Advancing in units rather than 5% advances means that the advancement process does not take as long – 6 to 7 steps rather than 10 – but I don’t think this is a bad thing, because:
- The career system is one of WFRP 2’s best aspects, and advancing up it rapidly and going through many careers is a great idea
- One principle of the system is that you start off in a nothing career and advance, and if you’re going to adhere to that principle it seems a good idea to make the advancement fairly rapid
As an example, let’s consider the Camp Follower, whose advance scheme is depicted above. She has three 5% advance limits and two 10% advance limits, and a total of 9 advances. I would revise this character so that she gets a single advance for Agility, two advances for Fellowship, and one advance on Toughness, Intelligence OR Willpower, then two wound advances, for a total of 6 advances. So the 7th advance can be spent on one of her career exits, some of which might actually be useful.
This might seem a little short (7 advances to change career) but I think it enables a story arc that is just impossible in the original game. There is a tale to be told about this Camp Follower: how she was recruited from the camps to become a Spy, and from there became a Scholar of buried languages, hunting the ruins of the old empire for rare texts; but her lust for knowledge led her to forbidden knowledge, enabling her to become an Apprentice Wizard; from there she rose up through Journeyman and Master Wizard to become Wizard Lord, eventually finding the general that led her original army to ruin and destroying him with her most vicious spells. In the original rules this would require a total of 33 advances to get to Apprentice Wizard, and another 33 to Wizard Lord. In the revised scheme it would be between 18 and 21 each. In my experience it’s really hard for adult gamers to keep a campaign together that long, and if we’re going to fully explore the career pathways that the game makes available we will need to be able to a) enjoy some degree of success in our starting career and b) move through careers relatively quickly. So shortening the advance process doesn’t seem like a bad thing to me.
I think it is possible to implement a smoother, improved system of skill resolution that barely changes the structure of the remainder of the game, doesn’t change the atmosphere of the system, but significantly improves the playability of the game. I don’t think this system changes the problem of asymmetricity in skill checks but it does reduce its impact. I also think that the reformation of the character advance system to match the skill resolution changes actually improves the ability of the game to achieve its original goal of building a story in which PCs elevate themselves from very basic starting careers to heroes, while enabling them to enjoy this journey rather than just desperately hoping to survive and get to a functioning career – especially given that the way the system is constructed, no career will ever be functional.
I aim to test this system soon and will report on the results when I do. Comments and additions (especially from experienced WFRP 2 players) are appreciated.
fn1: You could scale everything by 5, and use 2d12 for skill resolution, which would make for some very nice probability gradients but would probably be annoying