Sunday, December 6, 2009

Visual Roleplaying in the Warhammer World

The newest release in the line of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying games was released this past week by Fantasy Flight Games. This new 3.0 version of the rules takes a much larger departure from the original rules than the 2.0 version from Green Ronin and Black Industries did.  If you are not familiar with the new game I suggest you check out the games page and read many of the preview articles which explain the components and mechanics of the game.

What I wanted to write about as I have just finished reading the main rule set for the game is how I think this version of the game is innovative in the way that it helps players to roleplay their characters and visual the mechanics of the game in such a way as to help them roleplay those mechanics. To provide some background on my thinking, let me discuss a few things from my recent time playing 4th edition D&D.

In the D&D game I am DM'ing, based in a world of my creation, Ogres are rare and scary creatures. When the party of brave adventurers saw the Ogre for the first time they drew swords and charged straight in. In the Forgotten Realms organized play game I played in, my PC encountered some creatures of shadow. Shapeless beings from another plane, but I was not scared. I charged right in without thinking twice about this horrible creature. Roleplaying fear is hard. I am not the most prolific rpg'er, but I don't recall ever being in a situation where the DM said, you see a large red dragon, and any of the PC's said we cower in fear at the monstrosity in front of us. Sure D&D is more heroic, but hopefully the point is made.

A few other things I find it hard to roleplay are injuries and attitude. When you finish a battle with lot HP's in D&D all you need to do is rest for a few minutes and all is better. Not very realistic, which makes it easy to not roleplay the fact that you were just in a fight with a Grick who tore huge rakes into your flesh. I also, I recall playing a very gruff dwarf cleric in 3rd edition. I was mad at the world, and chased into any fight without issue. However, if I needed to negotiate I instantly changed tact to meet the needs of the current encounter. Now this is a problem on my part of not staying in character, but again I hope it makes a point that is hard to roleplay.

So four paragraphs in and we get to the point. In Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd edition (WFRP 3.0), Fantasy Flight has addressed the roleplaying issues I mentioned above by making a game with visual roleplaying components. These components, along with the unique mechanics of the game, help players to play more in character without making the mechanics feel board gamey.

A couple of examples of how the rules help address the issues above:

  • Chapter 8 of the rule book discusses conditions and effects.  In addition to discussing insanity, which is a staple of WFRP, it discusses the rules for fear.  When you first encounter a fear causing creature you have to check vs. your discipline.  Failing the test means that you are stressed (a mechanic in the game).  In addition, and this is where the custom dice are a benefit, if you roll two Bane results you will also be frightened.  Now inside a quick mechanic of rolling some dice you know exactly if you are frightened, and how frightened you are.  Mechanically you may also be on the way to having a bit of a break down.  If you encounter horrible, fear causing creatures all day long you will cower with fear and eventually go insane.
  • The end of chapter 7 discusses injuries.  In this game you have multiple levels of injury from very basic cuts and scrapes to critical wounds which could impair your PC for life.  The use of criticals in WFRP or Rolemaster have long been considered to be both a fun and realistic way of dealing damage, and WFRP 3.0 does a great job with this.  One of the nicer mechanics is that when you are knocked unconscious one of your normal wounds, visualized by cards, is converted to a critical wound.  This is done by turning the card from it's normal wound side to it's critical side.  This is done randomly, and helps to represent the damage done as you fall to the ground with your body beaten.  Perhaps nicer though is that when you rest you do not auto recover all of your wounds.  You recover some wounds overnight and on rest periods based on how tough you are.  You can also test your resiliency, which can help you to regain additional wounds.  People can assist you using first aid, but watch out for bane results or the healing attempt could do more harm than good.  All of this combines to make combat deadly and make players feel as though their characters are actually injured and at risk.
  • The stance meter in the game is perhaps one of the most unique elements.  The stance meter lets you adjust the mindset of your character from reckless, through neutral, to conservative.  Everything you do in the game is at least somewhat related to your stance.  If I am three steps in reckless and the encounter changes from combat to diplomacy it is going to be very hard for me to calm down enough for effective negotiation.  Mechanically, it forces me to think about how I will act in the game based on my current demeanor.
As I read the rules I kept thinking to myself that this game has tried really hard to encourage people to roleplay.  It provides a simple card and dice mechanic to help players understand what their PC's are doing and how the game world affects the PC's.  I am very anxious to try the game out, and am thinking of converting Shadows over Bogenhafen for use with this version.

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