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).