Monday, July 8, 2013

The Dice Are Always Greener On The Other Side Of The Delay Icon

A friend of mine recently wrote a couple of excellent statistical analysis articles about the dice in Warhammer FRP 3rd Ed. If you play or GM Warhammer Fantasy RolePlay, and are at all curious about the math going on behind the dice and the action cards, you'll definitely want to check out his articles.
  • The Correlation Effect - about the interdependence of the success/failure and boon/bane axis of the Warhammer dice.
  • Reckless Or More - about how stance modifies success and damage in the game.
His articles have triggered some discussion amongst our group about the mechanics, and specifically how the green and red dice stack up (and, by extension, the corresponding sides of the action cards).

Figuring out how aggressively to apply the results of the Delay icon on the green die is a surprisingly large part of the learning curve for a WFRP GM. In yesterday's session, I did it all wrong, and learned a lot from my errors. I was way too nice with the Delay icons, and won't be doing that again. 

Green (Conservative) and Red (Reckless) Dice need to be roughly equal, as do the Green and Red sides of the cards. Character decisions should be rewarded, so it's it's okay if there's sometimes a better stance depending on the situation or card combo, but no single situation or combo should be allowed to dominate play. Some cards will be better on a specific side, and that's okay, but it shouldn't be "green is always better" or vice-versa. It's vital that a PC be able to act carefully or recklessly to meet the needs of drama and characterization without it completely screwing their character every single time. If not, then what's the point of offering this extra mechanical fiddliness? Either decision needs to be valid in the majority of circumstances... but not every circumstance, or else the decision becomes meaningless. That is a tricky path to walk.

Delay icons need to be nastier than Exertion symbols. The other aspects (and sides) of the green die are more reliable than the red, so the green Delay should be slightly worse to compensate for that. The Delay is not just equivalent to the Exertion, it also has to compensate for the increased risk of Boons. This takes some thought and effort on the GM's part. The maximum result of a Delay symbol is locking you out of one action for the rest of the fight. The maximum result of a Exertion icon is locking you out of all your actions for the rest of the fight,  thereby making you extremely vulnerable, and making the player sit bored and frustrated while everyone else gets to play without them. Therefore, if you want to make them balanced, you need to make sure the minimum effect of the Delay is more dire than the minimum effect of an Exertion.

Exertion and Delay should be complimentary opposites, not equals. A character can generally laugh off rolling an Exertion teardrop on their first roll or two of a scene, but that same roll in round 3 or 4 of a fight is a noteworthy source of danger. For a long time, I thought the Delay hourglass should roughly follow that same pattern, to keep them balanced. Problem is, that doesn't really work. Penalties to recharge become less (not more) important late in a fight, because the fights are so short that you won't be reusing that action again even without the Delay. Penalties to initiative have a similar curve, and are really only a big penalty if applied early. So rather than building up to a crescendo like Exertion, the Delay icon needs to hit hard right out of the gate.

That said, Delay icons should never be applied to add recharge tokens to Active Defense cards. To a GM it's very tempting to put the tokens on Dodge or Parry, because it's a way to give a real but relatively modest penalty to a player. It's easy to justify to yourself because all you're doing is removing one or two black dice from one or two NPC rolls. The problem with that comes when you think about what the green dice represent. Green means I'm being careful and conservative, intentionally playing it safe and not taking risks. Does it really make sense that the consequences of that caution be a temporary weakening of my defenses? Not really.

With all those thoughts bouncing around in my head, my plan next session is to make Delay a much bigger deal than it was yesterday. I'll let you know how well it works.

No comments: