Friday, May 7, 2010

Filling up the tablespace

Last night I GM'd Warhammer 3rd for 6 players, 5 of whom had never even looked at the game before. It wasn't without its bumps, but overall I was pleased with the way it went.

6 PCs, with all their cards and sheets really eats up some table space. A friend showed up half way through the night, and we really couldn't free a place for him to sit at the table. Even before his arrival, I had to move my GM screen to a nearby empty chair, and I kept track of A/C/E pools in my head instead of with tokens because there wasn't room for them on the table. Likewise, I couldn't use a progress tracker for the beastman's morale like I wanted to, because most of the puzzle pieces ("event" markers in particular) were being used by players, and there wasn't much space to lay anything out.

We didn't get very far narratively, a tiny bit of role-playing followed by one encounter, and then another scant round of role-playing and wrap up after that. That was mostly about time constraints, though. Two of the 6 players had card problems and arrived late. Laying out the character sheets and explaining the rules ate up a big chunk of time after that. So, the actually adventure was only from about 7:45 to 10:00 pm. So while we didn't get far, the truth is that you really can't expect to get a lot done in 2 hours and 15 minutes with 6 players who are learning the new system. Second round of combat went around the table in about half the time of the first round, so it felt like we were getting over the learning curve pretty quickly. I think with a little more familiarity with system and characters, I think it'll run pretty well.

A few observations:
  • The system is pretty bloody, a direct result of the high success rate on attacks. Our fight lasted less than 3 complete rounds. This is a system where one mistake puts you in grave. None of the PCs went down, but most were within one more hit of being down, despite some great support and defensive actions being used at the right time. All 6 of the monsters went down, including the three who tried to escape.
  • Speaking of high success rates, if my count is correct (and I could be off because I tallied after the game instead of during), we had 27 die rolls during the night, and only 6 of them failed to generate net successes. 78% success rate is pretty heroic for fresh starting characters.
  • The abstract movement really shined. One of the PCs started the fight by launching an arrow while the others approached. If we were playing a game with a more rigid movement and range systems, his bit of showboating probably would have resulted in 2 or 3 rounds of just him firing arrows while everyone else closed ranks. Instead, everyone that wanted to was swinging swords in the very first round.
  • The ratcatcher's SBVD (Small But Vicious Dog) is a total bad-ass. Peter sent the dog in after the main bad guy, and got a good roll that essentially pinned the Wargor (beastman leader) in place for the whole fight. They peppered him with arrows, and then the troll-slayer ran in to finish him off. But that little dog was what kept him from using his best moves. So, while I honestly think the fight would have been a little more exciting if they didn't pull that off, I can't fault the players for identifying their character's strengths and using them to the fullest. They did exactly what they were supposed to.
  • The fortune refresh mechanic feels really different with a large group. When there's fewer PCs, you get your points back faster, so you're more motivated to spend them. Plus, the points accumulate based on clever actions and role-playing flourishes. But with a large group turns get long enough, you're less inclined to put those flourishes into your actions. Double-whammy. I suspect it probably works best with 3 or 4 PCs.
  • I love the flexible nature of the white and black dice. Being able to throw reward and penalty dice onto actions so freely was sweet. The big nasty Beastman leader had a special battle cry action, and I narrated that it was so loud and nasty, it shattered limbs off of trees. It was total fluff, just trying to put some color into the action. Then I realized I could penalize all actions for a full round with a black die because of branches and pinecones falling on people. That was kinda fun.
All in all a good night, even if it was a little rushed and light on plot.


Anonymous said...

One thing that I deliberately didn't do in the game was take a good look at the dice. I would be interested in what scores are actually on the faces of the green, blue, and red dice as there are some not necessarily obvious statistics going on. Yes, I'm horribly predictable.

r_b_bergstrom said...

Actually, I've already done a bunch of analysis, and am preparing some graphs I think you may enjoy.

There is an online resource that supposedly calculates dice odds. However, it's by a fan and you just get the end result, not the calculations, so if it had a flaw, you wouldn't be able to say for certain without doing the math yourself.

Here's the address if you're curious:

Erik said...

I'll be interested in seeing your results. As I was working on An Odd Call I was struck by the fact that the red dice are very deliberately higher variance. But because of the high likelihood of success and bloody nature of combat you basically never need above average damage. So you probably want low variance attacks.
From what I figured from the web site it looks like red dice don't give better results on average than blue dice, more successes but fewer boons, so that against anything but a boss monster they may very well be a sucker bet.
This is just some off the cuff stuff so not necessarily accurate, but it makes me curious.

r_b_bergstrom said...

Your instincts are mostly correct. There are a few actions and talents where getting extra successes is really good, but most of the time everything past the 3rd success is wasted.

Some of the big bosses and monsters have enough defense to make you need a lot of successes to score even a basic hit, but those are rare and exceptional foes.

More common is the ones with high soak, where you do want a crit or high damage to get past it, but again you're still not motivated to try and get more than 3 successes, and boons are just as likely to get you crits as the success line.

There's also an optional rule that would make extra successes meaningful on attack rolls, but I didn't feel it was worth the extra complexity while everyone was learning things. It would pay off better for more advanced characters, anyway.

Most of the action cards are more powerful on the red side than the green. The best stance then seems to be neutral, but with reckless as your default. I don't think that's what the designers were aiming for, but it's the conclusion I've been steering towards from our tests.

In my opinion, the green dice are the best. They have a 70% chance of getting a success. The only downside is the delay icons, but how much those will hose you depends a lot on the GM. Reading on the manufacturer's forums, some folks really hate the green dice, because their GM leans pretty heavy on those icons. There's whole groups where every player refuses to ever roll a green die again. The first time I read that, it shocked me, but at least 3 different GMs have reported the same thing at the forums.