Wednesday, April 7, 2010

7 Feats? For a starting character?

This is just a little rant about game mechanics. It's really not helpful in any way, and not particularly entertaining. If you're looking for usable content, scroll down to my next post.

If you just want to hear me whine a little bit, this is the place.

When I did my initial review of the Warhammer 3rd Ed, one of the things I didn't like about the game was the analysis paralysis that sets in during character creation. Between the main game and the player's toolkit there's over 100 action cards, and they're not easy to analyze. You could spend all day reading over the action cards, and still not know what's best for your character. As it turns out, it's actually a little worse than that. On top of the 100 action cards, there are more than 70 talent cards.

Turns out the analysis paralysis isn't only likely to show up at character creation. I'm really glad they put everything on cards, or this game would be a nightmare. Instead, the cards make it run smoothly.

I was thinking about it today, though, and I realized just how insanely buff starting PCs are. Talents and Actions are both very much like Feats in D&D, or Edges in Savage Worlds. It's relatively easy for a starting character to begin the game with 3 Talents and 4 Action cards, that would use 6 of your 20 to 25 character points.

Imagine a 1st-level D&D 3.x character that starts with 7 Feats. Or a starting Savage Worlds character somehow loaded up with 7 Edges. That seems pretty busted, right? Surprisingly, WFRP has fewer combos, so I think it's probably less unbalancing than giving someone 6 extra feats or edges would be in either of those games. Still, it was kind of a shock when I sat down to analyze it.

So I broke out my rarely-used D&D 4.0 PHB to compare. There a PC starts with 1 Feat, 2 at-will attack powers, 1 encounter attack power, and 1 daily attack power. This is roughly the equivalent of 1 Talent and 4 Actions in WFRP's terms, as near as I can eyeball it. So, you're only a little bit stronger / more diverse in WFRP than in 4.0 D&D, and that only if you choose to spend 6 of your 20 points on talents and actions. You could just as easily build a valid WFRP character with 0 talents and 1 only special action. Unless, of course, we factor in the 8 "basic actions" that all PCs start with. You just have a lot of options in WFRP.

Why on earth do they give starting PCs so many options? It's a design choice I'll never understand. If I'd written the rulebook, all PCs would start with exactly 2 talents and 1 special action. Instead they start with 0-3 and 1-4, and I don't feel like the game gains anything for having all this extra options at character creation. Later on, when you know the system better and are advancing your characters, it's probably justified, but right out of the gates, it's overwhelming. Remember the law of 7 +/- 2? It would seem the FFG crew have either never heard of it, or at least interpret it very differently. I guess they thought it should mean "don't start with more than 7 Feats"...

It's especially weird for a game whose previous editions are noted for the meager power levels of starting characters. I guess they wanted to distinguish this edition from that which came before, but it seems an inelegant way to do so. WFRP 1st & 2nd are the game where a single goblin armed with a wooden spoon is a danger capable of a TPK, though, so maybe I shouldn't complain. There was certainly room to build up the heroism a few notches, and 3rd Ed did so rather nicely, even if it did so at the cost of making character creation painful.

I'm planning on running WFRP for my weekly one-shot group sometime soon. When I do, it'll be with pregens, and for most of the characters, I'll be going with 1 or 2 talents, and only 1 or 2 actions. I might even trim the default character points down from 20 to somewhere in the low teens. I see no need to complicate things to the fullest extent possible.

Gripe session over. We now return you to (hopefully) more useful content...

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