Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Awesome New WFRP Blog

Thanks to Strike to Stun* I have stumbled across a fantastic new-ish WFRP blog - Awesome Lies, by Gideon. I have been enjoying his WFRP Manifesto series, which looks at the history and design of WFRP1e, but it is also the home of his excellent The Enemy Within Companion, and a new document that sounds absolutely up my street - a conversion of Night's Dark Terror (original available here) to WFRP1e. 

*Strike to Stun is a forum I ought frequent more often, as I ought spend more time at Arion Games' Advanced Fighting Fantasy forum and BRP Central. But I can't remember any of my log in details!

[Cross-posted at my more regularly maintained all-purpose blog: Known World, Old World]

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

On Whiff: Skills as Permission, Tests as Saving Throws

Hello, is anyone still here? Here, I teach Gradma to suck eggs.

Over on my other blog, I wrote a post titled Skills as Saving Throws. A much shorter version of the post is this: 
I have, in the past, run skill based RPGs in an unsatisfactory way. Some of this is prompted by poor refereeing advice in published adventures, and some by the temptation to ask for a dice roll as if the players rolling is the game, rather than the players making choices.
Recently, I have taken to using an 'old-school' approach; treating skill tests as Saving Throws. I am no longer treating them as rolls to accomplish, but rolls made to avoid failure when failure would otherwise occur. In trad. D&D, you don't avoid traps etc. way of Saving Throw, by rolling dice. You avoid traps by clever play, good (or fortuitous) choices, and only when you have stepped on the trigger do you roll to Save.
This relates to WFRP because WFRP is exactly one of the games that I have refereed poorly in the past. I have been unable to find the blog post in which someone wrote of the mistakes that they made when running Shadows Over Bogehafen, but I'll sum it up the source of much of his dissatisfaction - asking for Fel tests for ordinary interactions and the attendant frustration and failure. WFRP is often accused of being a system in which PCs are incompetent, with starting characteristics around the 30% mark.

The way round this is not to make a whole load of Skill Tests 'Easy' or 'Mundane', applying modifiers as a matter of course. The way round this is to not roll dice at all, at least most of the time. Most actions that a Player might have their PC accomplish don't need a dice roll, if the PCs have the required skills/background and have chosen suitable courses of action. In an idealised old-school game (see Matt Finch's Primer), the play is in the talk over the table and the choices the players make on behalf of their PCs. When the dice come out, something bad is about to happen - in these kinds of gritty, lethal games, combat is the key example.

Combat is always rolling to 'save', in circumstances in which conditions are such that failure is likely. In combat, the referee is provided with mechanics for determining the consequences of failure. For most skill tests, the referee has the responsibility of determining the consequences of a failed skill test. That a trained person might 'fails' 70% of the time in such circumstances should be always borne in mind when considering the consequences as well as whether to call for a skill test at all.  

I don't see any reason why in most cases, where a player chooses a course of action that will require a skill test, the referee cannot make the (likely? possible?) consequences of failure plain before the choice is finalised. I've been trying to do this, and I feel it leads to better play, on the part of both the players and, importantly, the referee. It certainly has helped me avoid both the 'unchosen skill test' that is all too present in published scenarios, in which a passage of play is not a series of choices, but a series of dice rolls, as well as the inconsequential skill test, in which a failed skill test carries no cost, as an NPC or other referee-devised contingency steps in to fill in the gap. 

So, I prefer to think of skills (which are all or nothing affairs in WFRP) as being 'permissions' for certain actions to be taken, or to be taken without a dice roll at all, and the percentages to be the equivalent to 'saving throws' to prevent everything going very badly wrong.

Incidentally, a BECMI 'Normal Man' has Saving Throws in the 14-17 range, which roughly amounts to a 30% chance of success.

p.s. Thinking of skill tests as 'rolls to save' rather than 'rolls to accomplish' doesn't quite capture all circumstances. But I feel that most occasions in which it is difficult to conceive of the skill test as anything other than a 'roll to accomplish' - for example, when searching for information in the Library of Verena - can be dealt with by looking at skills such as Animal Training, or the Dark Heresy system, in which, roughly speaking, failed skill tests cost time. And if time is of no consequence, neither then is the skill test. These type of skill tests should be conceptualized quite differently to 'rolls to save', and one way to ensure that this is done is by being as explicit as possible about the consequences of failure.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The Golden Tune, or, the Economics of Busking in WFRP1e

I once had players generate new characters and each one ended up with the Dance skill. They could earn more money as a dance troupe, busking on the streets of Nuln, than they could by engaging in the kind of dirt-grubbing adventures that starting WFRP characters often find themselves. And the GCs they’d collect by dancing in the street would far outstrip anything they could hope to earn from steady employment.

Musicless Dancing in the Street

At least, that is how I remember it. But is it true?

First, let’s consider player character subsistence. A character who can afford it must spend 7/- per day on food, though he or she could stave off starvation by spending as little as 3/-. There are, of course(!) 8 days in an Imperial week. This means that characters ought to be spending 56/- a week on food (a minimum of 24/-). A bed in the common room of an inn would set them back another 24/-, giving us a weekly subsistence of 80/-, or 4 GCs, per week. Or, if our character foregoes the bed (spending just 16/- on floor space) and eats very badly, 40/- (2GCs).

What can a player character earn in a ‘steady’ job? 60/- (3GCs) per week as an artisan, 30/- (1GC 10/-) as an entertainer, 42/- (2GCs 2/-) as a labourer, and just 3/- per week as a servant, though free board and lodgings in provided in that case. I know the Old World is grim and perilous, and life for the working classes isn’t bread and roses, but we must presume that the subsistence costs given above are for itinerant adventurers. It would, of course, be very expensive living in even the cheapest hotel and eating out for every meal. An entertainer must be able to survive on 30/- a week, even if they can’t live well, and an artisan must have an appreciably better standard of living. We can assume that a character with a ‘permanent’ home and preparing his or her own food can get by at the wage rates listed. Still, there isn’t much money to be made is honest labour. And that is if the character can find work – finding these jobs is subject to an Employment test!*

But what about busking? A busking character makes a test against Fellowship every hour. Success = D4+1 GCs (average 3.5 GCs), failure = D6 shillings (average 3.5/-), and a failure by more than 30% = trouble. Let’s say that a character busks for 5 hours every day, for a total of 40 hours busking a week. Let’s also say that the busking character has a Fel of 30%, the average for a starting character. Having a skill such as Dance allows the character a +10% bonus to Busk tests. So, over 40 hours busking a character will have 16 successful hours, 12 unsuccessful hours, and 12 hours being hassled by rowdy locals, moved on by watchmen, etc. If the character can stand the 12 hours of ‘trouble’, he or she will collect an average of 56GC (over the good hours) and 42/- (the bad hours). Or 58GCs 2/-!

Oh, the trouble? These are player characters we are talking about. If they have survived even the introductory adventure they will have killed a handful of cultists and a demonic monster! Rowdy locals? Watchmen? Worth the hassle for nearly 60GCs a week.

So I wasn’t misremembering. And that is why players in my games spent a lot of the time busking, and very little adventuring.

*It does appear that these wage rates are for a 6 day working week, with the authors forgetting that they had made the Imperial week 8 days long. But, even adding an extra day's wages... 

Friday, 2 October 2015

Playing: Chaos in the Old World

Power Gaming. The epitome of power gaming is surely playing a god. No? But even gods have restrictions, and in the case of the Ruinous Powers of the Warhammer settings, the nature of their portfolios binds their actions and ambitions far more tightly than the fates of any mortal.

Or something like that.

Before we began a protracted house move we played a few games of Chaos in the Old World. We'd bought D the game for his birthday quite a few years ago, but it never seemed to make it onto our table. It seemed, at a glance at least, to be so complex, and so full of components, and so there was always something familiar, or less fiddly to learn, or, or, or...

But then we did get the game onto the table, and we found it to be much more straightforward than we had feared. We were helped by the fact that - as we now embrace the 21st century - we were able to have a copies of the rules summary sheets produced by the Esoteric Order of Gamers as well as copies of the rules on each of our iPads. That didn't entirely stop C trying to put the wrong tokens in the wrong spaces at the wrong time, or the need for the creation of a new meta-rule for our group. We already have established that if C asks if it his turn, it almost certainly is his turn. Now, we have it that if I ask if it is my turn, it almost certainly isn't.

This must be a sign of my failing mental faculties, as Chaos in the Old World is a tightly structured game.

What makes this game really good, and provides plenty of replay value, is that each of the 'factions' - Khorne, Nurgle, Tzeentch, and Slaanesh - have different ways of winning, although they all can win by amassing victory points by taking part in the general ruination of the Old World. Khorne advances its Victory Dial by killing things (obviously), Nurgle by using its cultists to corrupt the highly populous regions, Tzeentch by corrupting regions which contain warpstone or magic, and Slaanesh by corrupting regions in which nobles or heroes reside. So each Ruinous Power has a distinct set of interests, which involves tangential rather than direct competition with that of the other Powers. This also means that if you want to deliberately frustrate your opponents you have to understand what  it is that their faction has to do in order to win, and sometimes to sacrifice the pursuit of your own goals to ensure that the power of a particular rival doesn't grow too great. 

Well, that's true for all the Powers except Khorne, which can be played in just as boneheadedly brutal a fashion as you would expect from the Blood God. And this is a good thing, as the rules capture the fiction of the Ruinous Powers - this isn't just Risk: Chaos Gods, after all - but it is the case that in our three games so far, Khorne has won XZ times. This is because, in killing the cultists of other Powers, Khorne advances its own Victory Dial while preventing its rivals from corrupting the Old World. Plus, Khorne has a couple of 'f- you!' Chaos Cards that can prevent any new Corruption Tokens being placed in a particular region, which can seriously handicap the ambitions of the other Powers. As if killing off their cultists wasn't enough. 

Khorne, therefore, is the easiest to play, but I have a suspicion that when more experienced players take control of the other Powers they will be able to frustrate Khorne - moving cultists away from its murderous minions, using magic to prevent battles from taking place, and so on. But they'd have to be disciplined in the early rounds, as once Khorne has moved its Victory Dial round a handful of 'ticks', even its mere cultists - the cheapest piece in its retinue of minions - become able combatants. As long as one of the other Ruinous Powers is played by an inexperienced player, Khorne will have plenty of opportunities to end the Old World in a tide of blood and gore.

So, there is plenty of replay value is rotating the role of the Ruinous Powers, and in learning to adapt to both playing a particular Power, and in frustrating the ambitions of the other Ruinous Powers with the capabilities afforded by each distinct role. But there is also tremendous replay value in the Old World Deck, which creates a series of randomised events which create new conditions and rules. In our first game, for example, killing peasants seemed to be continually rewarded. In the second there were outbreaks of Skaven activity - which lowers the Resistance of regions making it easier for a Power to Dominate a region and win victory points - and a wave of Heroes, who killed off minions belonging to the Power with the highest Threat. But while these were very different games, and while we had rotated seats to play different Powers, I got a very real sense that our understanding of the subtleties of the game was growing, producing more a more satisfying game as a result.

And, importantly, a keen anticipation of the next game.

Documents: Rulebook, FAQ/Errata (Fantasy Flight Games), Rules Summary (Esoteric Order of Gamers).

Friday, 21 August 2015


On my more general blog I recently wrote about my experience of 'getting' D&D having some experience of the scale (and extremes) of American geography. Ed Dove offered a very interesting reply/addendum on G+, which is that to get D&D's take on fantasy you really also have to check out that other icon on American geography, this time entirely synthetic - Disneyland. I'd quote from it, but I'd end up reproducing Ed's comment more of less in its entirety, so I'll simply link to it here.

Suffice to say, I think he's got a point, but what does this have to do with Warhammer? Well, Ed's observation has been made at a particularly opportune time, as Banksy opens Dismaland in Weston-Super-Mare. And Dismaland is to Disneyland, what WFRP is to D&D*; a reflection of the classic tropes distorted by black humour and political cynicism.

[Photograph by Yui Mok/PA, via the Guardian. Not trying to steal the picture, just using it for illustration, please visit the Guardian article to ensure that the proper licensees get their due web-hits.]

*Not all D&D is 'Disneyland American Fantasy'. As the OSR proves, the basic D&D engine is incredibly versatile and capable of handling all manner of genres.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Website: MadAlfred's WFRP Page

MadAlfred is Alfred Nunez Jr., a well-known figure in the WFRP community. One of those writers whose work spans both professional and fan publications, a glance at MadAlfred's webpage would tell you that this man breathes Warhammer, and despite his 4500 Citadel Miniatures, WFRP1e is his oxygen.

He's a representative example of the fact that there is significant overlap between WFRP's writers and WFRP's fans, players, and GMs. This isn't the case with all RPGs, especially with licensed properties being published in big, glossy book, which can often be the product of work-for-hire writers. And there is nothing wrong with that - professional writers gotta eat, and professional writers are professional - but it is a phenomenon that gives the 'dead' game of WFRP (and now the 'dead' setting of the Warhammer World!) some of the vitality found in the OSR, in which the distinction between players and producers is non-existent, in which real-life play, rather than play-testing, is producing some amazing gaming material. WFRP fan-culture chugs along slowly but surely. Actually, given the abandonment of both system and setting, 'fan' is the wrong word, it diminishes the contribution of WFRP players and GMs, reducing them to consumers... of what? Perhaps player-culture would be more appropriate.

MadAlfred's site is jam-packed with articles, maps and gazetteers, and perhaps most importantly a number of large and small-scale adventures. 

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Too much change/Not enough change

Right. It is about time that I weighed on the big debate about changes in Warhammer. I've had plenty of time to consider the rules and setting material.

WFRP2e didn't go far enough! I'm not talking about the system, which included improvements over that of 1e, while remaining close enough to the original for the two games to be speaking dialects of a common language. No, I'm talking about changes to the setting.

WFRP2e's Old World is an immediately post-war setting. And not just any war, but an apocalyptic war that depopulated vast areas and shattered political and social structures. And this is a world in which there are dark things in the forest, inhuman powers to turn to in desperation, etc. 

I know that some of the adventures add a few post-war details, but the feel of the thing is not one in which WFRP2e feels like it ought be played as Twighlight: 2522? Why isn't the whole of the eastern Empire up for grabs for armed men and women with the will to take it? Why doesn't the setting feel like Mad Max crossed with post-Black Death Europe? Why, for all the death and destruction, for all the population=0 in the gazetteers, does the WFRP2e Old World feel more structured and stable than that of WFRP1e? 

For one, it is simply much more detailed. Exhaustively detailed. I own nearly every book for WFRP 1e and 2e, and the 2e setting details are not just exhaustive, they are exhausting! They are some really well produced books, but they are so full of detail that it literally tires me out. Perhaps this is because I read these book as a GM, constantly thinking about the way in which I can incorporate these details into actual play.

But what of this detailed setting itself. Well, remember that the reason the setting of the RPG was changed was to keep it in line with the wargame. A wargame of Emperors riding Griffons and in which every other Graf is nigh-on a superhero, rather than ordinarly weak men, corruptible politicians in a dirty, confusing world. But that's not all of it. Classic D&D has rulership and personal combat/magical ability pretty tightly woven together, and yet built into Classic D&D is also the idea of the lawless, unstructured frontier ripe for adventure - in fact, this implied setting justifies the link between personal ability and rulership. No, being tied to the wargame seemed to demand a setting in which the lines between 'factions' were solid, and the factions themselves were solid - how else could these political entities survive in a world of endless war? Just like the structure of a television show, while it is acceptable to have disruptive events, by episode end the status quo must be restored.

Oh, Age of Sigmar? As Zhou Enlai supposedly said of the French Revolution, 'It's too soon to say'. I'll get back to you in a decade.