WFRP3e from a 4E Nerd’s Perspective

So recently I broke down and snagged myself a copy of Warhammer Fantasy RolePlay from Fantasy Flight.  My previous WFRP experience was a few sessions in the 2nd edition, and I picked up a used copy of the first edition that I never got to play but did enjoy reading.

My interest in WFRP3e has been more gamer curiosity than purely wanting a new game. I’ve put off buying it for some time, but now that I have a game shop I felt it wouldn’t hurt to at least look into it so I knew more about the product. Overall, I enjoy the new system. I can see where a lot of old timers have been angered by the changes, but I also see the game on its own being a lot of fun and possibly a good one for newcomers to pick up. Right off the bat, I’m under the impression Fantasy Flight went the direction they did so they would have a product that would appeal to their board gamer consumer base as a gateway into the RPG Hobby. Although looking at the contents of the game, it’s easy to accuse it of being more board gamish than an RPG. For all the critics crying foul because of the contents, let me just say that yes, it IS a role playing game. And that despite the card use, it hasn’t taken away any of the RP nor is it a “clone” of D&D 4e.

If you’re not familiar with WFRP, especially the 3rd edition, then I recommend this review here. It delivers plenty of detail about the contents and systems, which I was going to elaborate on but decided I’d rather get to the points I wanted to address instead of rehashing what has already been said.

Anyways, here’s a few of my thoughts based on a few read thrus, a character creation field test and running a one shot adventure so far:

  • Rules Presentation: The Core Set comes with four books: A core rule book, a GM Book, a book for Priests and a book for Wizards. They’re nowhere near as big as D&D core books, but they’re full of lots of setting info and the core rules seem straight forward. That said, all of the character career options, abilities, traits, spells etc are presented in cards. No, that isn’t it came with spell/ability cards to supplement the rules; it means ALL OF THOSE CRUNCHY RULES ARE PRESENTED PURELY ON THE CARDS. It’s sort of like if they never printed the powers in PHB, and instead just gave you the power decks.
  • There’s only one card for each ability. Maneuvers common to all characters at least came with three copies, but the rest…single card. This means, as is, you’re looking at players being limited to power choices not already picked by those who made their characters first. Also, while it’s convenient that a player right out of the box can have something to reference his ability (as opposed to passing books around), it’s annoying HE gets the only copy (so the GM will still make inquiries.) All of this solved by photocopying or writing stuff down….but still, kind of a pain in the arse.
  • The Required Pieces make playing at a table also a requirement: So the game plays using dice pools made up of special dice designed for the game. This means the luxury of everyone owning their own set is now tossed out the window. The players also have a “Party Sheet” where the GM places fortune dice for them to grab, as well as slots for un-played traits to be exchanged. So, for my gaming group who usually plays in living rooms or in a study more than around an actual tabletop, this can be pretty inconvenient.  Also factor in tokens for keeping track of power points, ability refresh, the challenge mechanic (difficulty is determined by the amount of Challenge dice a GM puts into a player’s dice pool)…..yeah, this would suck sitting across the room in big comfy chairs.
  • For something so focused on the Abstract, it sure does take up a lot of space. I ended up keeping all of my counters, tokens and pieces in a small tackle box.  This took a while to organize. During game play, the published demo adventure and introductory romp they have for the game requires the GM to build a plot tracker using the interlocking puzzle pieces that come with the game. The published adventures also didn’t provide monster stats, requiring the GM booklet to be opened to the bestiary.  The same pieces that are used for the players to build stance tracking meters are also used by the GM to build an initiative tracker. During combat, we use little stand ups of the characters and monsters to determine distances. Sure, it doesn’t require a grid map to scale…but you do have to place tokens between pieces to mark how far they are from each other. Factor in each player doesn’t just have a sheet, but a class card and their abilities PLUS each point of damage is represented by a wound card….yeah, it gets crowded.
  • Not all of the bits are even necessary. Speaking of which, most of the “Board Game” pieces you hear people gripe about with the game and see in pictures of peeps playing, I think, aren’t really a required part of the experience. I’m not saying they’re a complete hindrance: I think for complete newcomers to RPG’s, or peeps coming from more advanced board games, they could help a lot. But running the game for just a couple players seemed to get bogged down in the setup and the token upkeep. It just seemed excessive.  The stances can be kept easily on a sheet (hell they’re printed on the Career cards).  I found it annoying moving pieces on a tracker for an event tracker. So after the enemy token is moved to the fourth point on the tracker, the boss monster kills an NPC in the adventure? How about we just say this shit happens on the 4th round, and not give the players a vague, mysterious tool to watch the GM play with? It’ll free me up some space.

Don’t get me wrong though, I had a blast running this game and overall I enjoyed the piss out of it. There is a lot to like here:

  • The Abstract Distances are Kinda Cool. I just think it felt wonky bringing tokens into play for the distances. If I’m going to even bother with using the character stand ups, I’ll probably use the fan made sheet inspired by the 3:16 Distance Tables (link — it’s titled range-ad316) Hell, I’m considering porting this idea to 4E to reduce the mini use but keep the tactical play. But really, I think most groups can go without the counters and just keep the distances, well, abstract.
  • The Dice Pool System is Awesome: I’m a fan of Dice Pool systems from Shadowrun and WoD games anyway. But the custom dice actually work really, really well. I like that instead of issuing a target number, I just hand over an amount of challenge dice based on the difficulty. You’re not crunching numbers so much as counting the symbols, and they make sense: Skulls & Chaos are bad, Hammers and Eagles (and Sigmar Comets) are awesome. It’s easy to just glance and right away being able to tell not only success or failure, but the degree of it.
  • Card Based Damage System is Fun. For every wound point, you receive a wound card placed face down. If it’s a critical, you flip that card over and the effect listed on it goes into play. Since I’m a GM who enjoyed playing with the Critical Hits Deck in D&D, I’m perfectly cool with this system. Plus it makes it easy to track wounds without constantly erasing.
  • The Magic System is Brutal. I like the consequences and effects of magic in this system. It really portrays magic as this hostile, chaotic force that may take some effort to harness, but usually has drastic effects that can change the fate of a battle (for bad or good.) The chaos/missfire mechanics with the cards seem sound (again, sparing a table/chart look up). I also like how cantrips are handled as ad-lib’d stunts, created on the fly with restricted effects. Again, that idea might be worth stealing for 4E.
  • This is so not “Points of Light.” The characters do seem more powerful out the door in this edition, but they’re still very far from the fantastic heroes of D&D. My sample character I rolled up? A poor, dwarven Dockworker. Armed with a dagger and rope; more skilled in rolling with the punches than delivering them.  It still carries an element of dark and gritty that I like from time to time, that can be hard to convey in D&D 4E. Heck, even with the “power cards” in this game, most of the abilities are rather tame, circumstantial maneuvers then Huzzah! powers.

As I dive in more, I’ll give more thoughts into the matter. It’s a game I would recommend for those who could afford it, and who are into Warhammer and would have a group that such a game could work for. Otherwise, it just seems like more hassle for a higher price tag. I love the mechanics, but wish it was less “bits-focused.”  To any diehards with previous editions, you might want to just stick to your collection. At least the 40K RPG’s are still using the “classic” dice and paper route. I hate ragging on it, because the new mechanics are quick. It does open itself up to a surprising amount of role-playing. But I can’t help but wonder how much fat could have been trimmed down to give an equal (if not more fluid) experience, as well as something cheaper in the long run.

5 thoughts on “WFRP3e from a 4E Nerd’s Perspective”

  1. I also wrote a pretty extensive review of the game focusing on the parts issue. I can’t get past the fact that this is a game focused on a bunch of people sitting at a table, but otherwise, if you play on the couch or the bed, or the floor, you might be SOL…

    Really frustrating. Especially considering that 2E was already an excellent game, and more in line with the 40K line of games FF is still producing in the traditional mode. I think it was a poorly considered project.

  2. I would have to disagree with the custom dice issue though. I found them to be frustrating, annoying to work with and wondered constantly how they were improving play when they involved making every round more complex instead of less.

    Our group just hated that aspect.

  3. To be honest I was looking at the dice issue purely from a Dice Pool mechanic standpoint and not how old Warhammer went. I can grok the idea of here’s dice, here’s better dice, here’s worst dice. But using special symbols fragged it all up bad imo.

    I’ve actually been thinking about how a give and take dice pool system like this could work with regular dice…but that’s for another post, and is purely in the “Hypothetical, sounds good in my mind” sort of realm.

  4. PS — Not sure if you saw my later post…but in the end, I agree with you overall. It had some neat conceptual ideas but in the end…WTF were they thinking? The 40K line feels waaay stronger and I’m glad they kept those rules.

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