Friday, May 28, 2010

Nicely-timed Press Release

On Tuesday, I wrote the following about Warhammer RPG:
"Later this summer they're releasing a magic supplement, which will also have rules for corruption and mutation. Probably, I'll buy that and see what it does to magic, then decide thereafter whether or not to continue purchasing this game line. If it turns out I'm [likely to] rebuild it entirely, I probably don't need to keep buying. But if they plan to release more career cards, and I plan to just trim out some of the less elegant bits, then I could see myself continuing to buy new releases and adapt them as I go."

On Thursday morning, FFG revealed that the magic supplement I mentioned will include in it a bunch of new career cards (most of which are surprisingly not magic-using careers). The very thing I said I'd need to keep me interested in the game, is (at least to some extent) is not only planned, but will be available sooner than I would have expected. That put a smile on my face.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ideas towards a Warhammer Lite

Just thinking out loud about what I might do to really trim down Warhammer Fantasy RolePlay 3rd Ed down to a lean, mean role-playing machine. Keep the parts I like, ditch the parts that get in the way.

Let's talk Crunchometer for a moment. Warhammer FRP 3rd is a c20 that plays like a c12. In truth, it's every bit as crunchy and fiddly as D&D 3rd Ed, but the wealth of tools, shortcuts, and card-based reminders, combined with the reduced dice math, makes it play like a system that's much lighter. Problem is there's tons of effort and complexity in set-up and character advancement that just doesn't seem worth it to me. I prefer to run about a c8 or c10. Which means that at the table, I can live with Warhammer, but between sessions I'm stuck looking at it's uglier aspects. Thus my desire to pare it down a bit.

Funny Dice - Love these. Absolutely love the two-pronged twin-axis success system, with all it's non-binary silver linings and side-effects. I even love the high success rates. I'll probably keep all of it. Honestly, I could do without certain symbols, as they complicate things more than they add. Comets, Chaos Stars, and Righteous Successes could probably have been a Success + Boon, Failure + Bane, and Double Success respectively, and it'd still be just as good. The savings in time and complexity would have more than made up for not having a few more subtle options.

Action Cards - Love some of these, but am not thrilled with others. Active Defenses are my favorite, followed closely by Riposte and Counterblow. The "spend my whole action to just get +1 Fortune on my next turn's action" cards are stupid, since the success rate is so high you're always better just trying twice instead. Actions that take opposed checks mystify me, as they really punish low traits, and have success rates so different from a basic attack. There's a number of cards that just aren't good enough - but the other way of looking at it is that Perform A Stunt is too damn good. It's also easy to end up with too many cards and fall victim to Analysis Paralysis. Since I sometimes game in another city, it's a drag to have to haul 150 cards with me to every session just in case someone wants to buy an Action advancement.

Recharge - Means well, but is so damnably inelegant. I love that it keeps people from spamming their best attack, and that it makes fights dynamic. At the same time I hate that it involves a bunch of bean-counting and eats up so much table space. Feels like there ought to be a solution that involves standardized recharge, and thus no counters. Perhaps a row or pile of three cards, each new action you play goes to the left of the others. At the start of your turn, if you have three or more cards in the row, the right-most card becomes available again. The "encounter powers" from D&D 4th are much more elegant way of accomplishing something similar.

Stance Meter - Like the concept, but not the fiddliness. You have enough decisions in a turn as-is, without needing to micromanage your depth of stance. A better way to handle this would be to simplify it to a trinary mode, with just 1 space each of Conservative, Neutral, and Reckless. If you're in green or red, you roll all your dice in that color. Or maybe your max dice in that color, based on career and stance purchases. C/N/R might even be one step grittier than it needs - what the heck does "neutral" really mean? You could argue that you're either being cautious or being reckless, and that there's nothing really in between.

Fatigue and Stress - Could probably be merged into a single Exertion stat without really losing anything. Or, fatigue could stay around, and stress could be merged into the Party Tension meter. Or we could keep fatigue and stress, but drop the "strained" condition.

Delay - Changing the Recharge mechanism would of course make the Delay icon work differently. If using the row of cards idea for recharge, perhaps the GM would be able to rearrange your row on a Delay.

Talents - Are awesome in that they let PCs slot in little abilities that distinguish them from each other, and I like the general categories and concepts. However, the impact on leveling up and career changing is weird. May choose to have the categories just define what you can purchase (or what counts as Career Advancements) but allow any slot to be used universally once you have bought them.

Party Card - Like the concept of the party card, the tension meter, the talent slots and the special ability, but I'm not sure I love the actual execution of any of this. Maybe this could be done away with, maybe it should be radically re-envisioned, or maybe it should just be given a font and layout that can be read from anywhere at the table.

Fortune Points - A must have. Love them, and especially the way they refresh. Does such a great job of turning "stunting" and "drama dice" into a team-building experience. If I run Savage Worlds again, I may change the bennie system to be doled out like these.

Abstract Movement, and Location Cards - I love these as will gladly keep them, but to some extent I worry that the numbers are a little wrong. It's pretty easy to rush archers (and for that matter, there's no incentive to stay under cover), and otherwise run the length of the largest possible battlefield in one to two turns. Perhaps fatigue needs to be harder to deal with, so that such rushes are more costly.

Wounds and Crits - This could be really simplified, but still be colorful. Perhaps you could reduce all the math out of it. Every successful hit could just do 1 crit, or even 1 crit per uncanceled hammer, with no non-crit wounds, and no wound threshold. These ideas are pretty radical, though. There'd be lots of ripple effects. No soak anymore, for one thing, and not much differentiating weapons. Plus, depending on how much I altered the other rules, the existing crits might not work so well. There's a good chance I won't touch any of this, as it would be a lot of work.

Spellcasting - I definitely want to keep the notion of Miscasts. I think the miscast deck is fun, and it makes magic interesting and unique. It reinforces the themes of the setting - that magic is dangerous and chaotic.
The mechanics for recharging your power points are nice, but a little clunky. Wizards are on a really long leash. You can pop off your best spell, and then cast it again a few turns later with just a little bit of hoop-jumping. That's definitely preferable to spells-per-day systems, or even to Savage World's power points that take hours to recharge. My instinct is that they hit the right balance... but then I look at the actual spells, and I realize that the attack spells are no better than shooting an arrow or swinging a sword. The non-combat spells aren't phenomenally better than things you can do with a skill, either. If your spell effects are no more impressive than what a non-caster can accomplish, why burden the caster with the extra complexity and limitations of having to channel power? Which leaves me wanting to either simplify the casting process, or rachet up the power of the spells.

EDIT: My words about spellcasting were written before the supplements came out that introduced the higher-rank spells. The high level spells are indeed worth jumping through hoops for, but the first rank spells are generally less powerful than what a non-spellcaster can do with just normal skills and equipment.

Careers - These were at the heart of the 1st & 2nd Ed systems, and still play a big role in 3rd Ed. Problem is, they aren't as extensive in the current system, and the existing ones are a little arbitrary and not too well balanced. It's a poor mix, which results in people house-ruling that you can repeat careers. I'm not willing to allow that, because it would encourage min-maxing. The game either needs a lot of more careers, or needs to ditch them entirely. I could go either way, and be happy. I'd probably prefer to go the "lots more careers" route, but given how many other things I'm considering changing, that might not be worth all the extra trouble.

I don't really have a solid plan of where to go from here. I'll either pare the system down to something less fiddly, or go so far as to build it up from the ground as an entirely new system that uses the dice and their lovely two-axis results. Later this summer they're releasing a magic supplement, which will also have rules for corruption and mutation. Probably, I'll buy that and see what it does to magic, then decide thereafter whether or not to continue purchasing this game line. If it turns out I'm likely to rebuild it entirely, I probably don't need to keep buying. But if they plan to release more career cards, and I plan to just trim out some of the less elegant bits, then I could see myself continuing to buy new releases and adapt them as I go.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Stance Matters

Yet another post on the dice in Warhammer FRP 3rd Ed. I'm milking these plastic polyhedrons for all they're worth.

This time, the topic is the conservative and reckless stances. Here's a graph of very typical dice pool*. What the graphs show is the changes to the probability if the character is in a neutral stance, or if they are rolling 2 Conservative (green) dice or 2 Reckless (red) dice instead of 2 of the neutral Characteristics (blue) dice. The lines are even color-coded to make the charts easy to read.

General observations:

Conservative (green) dice are always better than Characteristics (blue) dice.

Reckless (red) dice are better than Characteristics, as long as you don't have a really nasty bane result waiting in the wings. Before taking a reckless action, it's a good idea to look at the card and see what 1 bane would do to you. If you can't live with the result of 1 bane, you need to shift back towards neutral.

Red dice result in high variance, really extreme outcomes.

The charts show what happens out to 3 successes or boons. Most of the time, that's what's going to matter. However, there are some situations (first aid and recovery being the most common in the core rules) where you want lots of successes. When making those sorts of rolls, Reckless can really pay off. If we take extrapolate the numbers further out (to 4 to 6 successes) the red dice go further out and don't drop off as quickly.

There's an optional "Higher Lethality" rule in the GM's toolkit, where excess successes do more damage. If you use that optional rule, reckless looks much more appealing, since red dice will generate more high-success results.

These charts don't address Exertion or Delay icons. In general, those only matter at key moments and aren't the sort of thing that a chart like this can really account for. If one point of Stress or Fatigue will Strain you, or if two Recharge tokens or a change to Initiative order will derail your plans, then you're best off dropping back to neutral. The rest of the time, Green or Red is the way to go.

The best Reckless actions are one's whose cards achieve their results through the higher success lines, not the boons. A really nasty single-bane line can ruin an otherwise good reckless card.

The best conservative actions either have a good mix of boon and success results, or concentrate their power in a single success and don't need multiple successes to be worth it.

The following Talents turn Boons into Successes, and are thus best for a character who relies on Conservative Stance: Charismatic, Might Makes Right, Girding Oneself, Determined, Coordinated Efforts, Clever. A character who spends a lot of time in Reckless stance will rarely find it useful to activate them.

The following Talents generate additional Boons based on number of successes rolled, and thus are best for characters who rely on Reckless Stance: Silver Tongue, Deductive Reasoning. A character who spends a lot of time in Conservative stance will rarely get the full benefit out of them.

Since the green dice outperform the red across the two main axis of differentiation (i.e.: green roll slightly more successes, and far more boons) it seems likely that the designers intended for the impact of one Delay icon to be somewhat more potent than the impact of one Exertion icon. It's hard to say whether or not they achieved that goal. The fatigue or stress of Exertion is usually something you can afford to take a few times per encounter, where as your very first Delay can hose you pretty badly. However, building your character to minimize the impact of Delay requires fewer XP than building your character to cope with Exertion. The majority of the action cards have better results on the red side than the green, though, so perhaps the designers took that into account as well.

*: The dice pool in question would represent a character with 4 points of the relevant characteristic, 1 level of relevant skill and 1 bonus fortune die (from a specialization or talent, or from a situational modifier), rolling against 1 challenge die and 2 misfortune dice (either defense of the target, or a situational modifier). I ran a lot of other charts, but again this dice pool provides a good summary and representation of the main effects, plus it's likely to come in play quite often.

Friday, May 14, 2010

+1, -1, +1, -1 ≠ 0

Yet another post on the interesting dice pools of Warhammer Fantasy RPG 3rd Edition. This time, we'll be taking a look at Fortune and Misfortune dice (the white and black d6's that are half blank, and which represent situational modifiers).

GM Tip: If your players do something crazy in character, that might just work but could also backfire, the proper reward for that is to add 2 white and 1 black die. It's mostly a benefit, but has a small chance of making things fail spectacularly.

We're going to start this one off with a graph that's not even Warhammer. Here's your standard graphs of normal rolls of ordinary 2d6, 3d6, or 1d20, the cornerstones of many a gaming system.

Now, let's say you were rolling one of these systems, and there were a lot things going on. The GM applies a bunch of modifiers, and they just happen to be an equal number of positive and negative modifiers. Maybe it's an archery roll, and you're shooting a top-quality bow (+1) with a magic arrow (+1) at a stationary target (+4), but it's kinda windy out (-2) and the sun is low on the horizon (-2) and it's beyond your first range increment (-2). What would that do to the graph of your odds to hit a particular target in one of these kinds of systems?

The answer, of course, is nothing. The graphs would look exactly the same, because the equal modifiers balanced out. Despite all these crazy details being in play, it ends up with you having the exact same odds of making the shot that you would normally if none of the modifiers were in effect. In most systems, conflicting modifiers just cancel each other out (sometimes literally, sometimes just effectively, but the result is the same). If a truly complicated situation comes up, you can end up doing a fairly large amount of math only to discover that the end result is the same, or very similar to, the unmodified default roll. I don't know about you, but I find that a little frustrating.

In contrast to that, Warhammer fantasy role-play involves less math, and makes sure the conflicting modifiers actually have an impact. Nearly all modifiers in Warhammer are abstracted out to either one Fortune Die, or one Misfortune Die. It's easy to remember, and the GM is free to tweak it on the fly. If something crosses your mind as a possible modifier, you throw another die into the pool. As you can probably guess from the tone of my description, I'm inclined to like this. I'm a sucker for elegant flexible systems, so I'll acknowledge that bias before going on.

One area I was worried about though, was whether or not these dice would effectively just cancel each other out. I know that in general with normal numbered dice, the more you put into a pool, the steeper the bell curve gets. I was a concerned and suspicious that a big handful of fortune and misfortune dice would just make the average result happen a lot more often. Much to my surprise, the exact opposite occurs. Additional dice leads to greater variance in the dice pools.

On the right is a simple graph of a very small dice pool (3 Characteristics dice vs 1 Challenge Die). The blue line shows what happens when we add an equal number of Fortune and Misfortune dice to the pool. Odds of basic success and failure barely changed at all. Success dropped 2 points from 59% to 57%, a variation that's hardly going to be noticed. At the same time, however, the chance of scoring the important triple hammer uber-success line of most action cards nearly doubled, shooting up from 6% to over 12%.

How exactly that happened is better illustrated by the next graph, which also shows the same die pool, but breaks out the possible results a little differently. Instead of showing the odds of scoring a particular result or higher, it gives the percentages for every discrete number of successes possible. Here we can see where those extra results are coming from. The odds of getting exactly one success have actually dropped rather far, but the improved odds of scoring the bigger hits have compensated for most of it.

Extrapolating from the 2 charts, we see that with the Fortune and Misfortune dice added, you're only 25% likely to score exactly 1 success, but you're 32% likely to score 2 or more successes. Without the extra modifier dice, the numbers are essentially reversed, and you're more likely to score 1 success than 2 or more.

Of course, as I noted in last week's articles about the Challenge Dice, looking at successes is only half the equation in Warhammer 3rd. To get the full picture, we have to look at boons. Here's a pair of graphs of a somewhat larger pool of dice. I've graphed what it looks like as an unmodified pool, as well as what it looks like with 1, 4, and 7 sets of matched Fortune and Misfortune dice. Not that I have any desire to roll a 20+ dice pool that's been loaded down with 14 situational modifier dice (on top of the realistic pool of Stance, Characteristics, Skill and Challenge dice) but since the Warhammer probability tool made it easy for me to calculate those odds, I thought I'd share them. They do make for some interesting graphs.

All the graphs I compiled for all the pool sizes shared a few traits in common. In general, more black and white dice meant more extreme results. They increased the chance of triple-hammer successes, but also the chance of failure. They increased the odds of scoring banes, but also increased the odds of scoring 2 or more boons. Reckless dice (the red d10's) are a little more complicated, and probably deserve a blog post of their own, but the charts shown here are very representative of a wide array of pools composed using Conservative Dice or Neutral Dice. In many of the pools, adding more black and white dice (at least in the quantities likely to be seen in-game) would have almost no impact on the odds of scoring at least one boon, but would pump up the more extreme boon and bane results. It would accomplish this by reducing the odds of scoring a "boon neutral" roll where the boons and banes didn't come up, or came up in equal numbers and cancelled each other out. The odds of a single boon goes down at the same rate that the odds of multiple boons goes up.

Ultimately, the amount of variance provided by the Fortune and Misfortune dice wasn't huge. The green lines on these last too charts look impressive, but that represents 14 dice of modifiers being added to the pool. You're just not likely to use enough modifiers or dice to get to the point that the numbers really get interesting.

I find that I'm happy that the dice don't just cancel each other out, and that they lead to increased chance of the more extreme rolls occurring. At the same time, I'm a little let down that it takes so many dice to achieve these effects.

Warhammer 3rds die rolls get interesting because of the Boons and Banes, they provide the subtle nuance of the system, the extra oomph that other rules sets lack. Boons and banes are also more sensitive to large variance. There's very few cases in the default rules where getting 5 successes is functionally better than getting 3 successes (mostly just for first aid and recovery rolls). But, there's often something useful to do with a 4th or even 7th boon, and frequently some horrible side-effect waiting to be triggered by yet another bane. Looking at it from that perspective, there's plenty of reason to want boons and banes to be the most likely result of the Fortune and Misfortune dice. Sadly, they're not. Each such die has 2 Success or Failure symbols, and only 1 Boon or Bane symbol. They're twice as likely to impact success as boons. I see them as a step in the right direction (since a ton of modifiers actually does something, instead of just canceling out), but they strike me as being a little bit of a missed opportunity. If they had it all to do over again, I would encourage FFG (the publisher of Warhammer 3rd) to swap the Boons and Successes ratios on these dice. That way more modifiers on a roll would result in a more dramatically increased chance of side effects stemming from the roll.

One last observation (and this is where I stole the GM tip from for the start of the article): Let's say a PC at your table does something really risky, but which might just pay off. Swinging across a chandelier and kicking an enemy, for example. Throwing themselves against a foe on or near a clifftop. Muckraking and name-calling during a social event. Having seen these numbers, I'd feel pretty comfortable "rewarding" such behavior with both a Fortune and a Misfortune die - the net result will be about a percentage point or two against them, but with a big impact on the odds of making the likely result more extreme either way.

If you want to genuinely reward such behavior, and encourage it in the future, then I'd consider giving 2 Fortune and 1 Misfortune die to the action. That will probably help them out a bit, but also open up a small chance of it backfiring. I think this is a lot better than the example in the rulebook where a PC dives out of a tree at a beastman. In the book, they just give him two Misfortune dice (and no Fortune) because it's tricky and dangerous, which is just going to discourage your players from taking such colorful actions again in the future.

2 Fortune and 1 Misfortune is also fun because it mirrors the effects of being drunk. The "intoxicated" condition card gives 1 Fortune and 2 Misfortune. The subtle difference of these pools shades the distinction between bravery with a side of foolishness, or foolish with a side of bravery. Plus, if a PC is ever drunk, and the player does a good job of hamming it up with outrageous actions, they'd stand to roll 3 Fortune and 3 Misfortune total, which as we've seen does a great job of making something unusual (for good or ill) come out of the roll.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Two By Three

In yesterday's analysis of the dice from Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play 3rd Edition, I came to the conclusion that 1 Challenge die was worth 2 Misfortune dice. That was, as it turns out, an over-simplification.

Let's look again at the chart that shows the relative impact of challenge dice and misfortune dice. Here it is, a very typical starting character dice pool, 4 trait dice, 1 skill die, and 1 fortune die. The graph shows how that pool performs against various difficulty ratings.
As you'll recall from yesterday's post and can see today, 1 challenge and 2 misfortune is almost identical to 2 challenge. The math of it gets a little complicated as you try different dice pools, but this chart sums it up nicely, being represented by the way the yellow line and brown line overlap, and the way the green line overlaps with the light blue line.
The impact on the success or failure of the action is essentially the same whether you add 1 challenge or 2 misfortune.

But this Warhammer 3rd we're talking about, and success is only half the picture. The game also has boons and banes, which represent silver linings and nasty side-effects. A roll can "fail" but still generate some sort of minor beneficial effect. An attack can hit, but fatigue the attacker. You can save the day, but still make things worse while you're at it. That's part of the charm of the system.

Let us now examine the boon and bane odds of those same die rolls.

For ease of comparison, I kept the same color coding of the lines, and kept the chart oriented where the better rolls are on the right. But since we're looking at Boons and Banes now, the chart doesn't run from 0 to 3. It runs from -3 to +3, essentially. The middle column of the chart represents rolls where either no boons or banes come up, or where equal numbers come up and they cancel each other out.

Two things become obvious about this.
  • One, the brown and yellow line no longer overlap, which tells us that 2 challenge dice is worse than 1 challenge and 2 misfortune, afterall.
  • Two, the green line is still hidden. Except now, the green line is hidden behind the brown one, instead of the light blue. That suggests a challenge die has a similar impact on boon/bane odds as three misfortune dice.

So I ran the numbers quite a ways up (as well as down to just misfortune with no challenge), and discovered that yes, the boon and bane numbers for 1 challenge die are about equal to the boon and bane numbers on three misfortune dice. I'm not posting the full chart here as it became an eyesore of overlapping rainbow colored lines, and to get any useful information out of it you have to keep turning various columns and dice pools on and off so they don't obscure the data layered beneath them. The edited version above should convey the general point clearly enough.

Does 1 challenge die equal 2 or 3 misfortune dice? The answer is "yes".
  • For purposes of affecting whether your action succeeds or fails, it's worth two misfortune.
  • For purposes of determining whether the side effects that go with your action are positive or negative, it's worth three misfortune.
That has an interesting effect on those Improved Active Defenses we were talking about yesterday. Taking "Improved Parry" does not improve your odds of completely avoiding an attack, at least not significantly. But it does reduce the quality of that attack, and make it more likely the enemy will suffer some sort of drawback or side-effect. How much of a boost that is, and how dire the side effects will be, depends entirely upon the action card you're being attacked by. It's beyond the player's control, and even beyond their ability to know in most situations.

It will definitely impact how I design monsters and NPCs for my own campaigns, though. I'll make certain I include plenty of juicy bane lines on monster actions to benefit the PCs who took the improved defenses.

One more interesting observation: As you add more and more negative dice to the roll, the odds of getting boons goes down, but after a certain point the odds of getting a net-zero roll stops advancing as well. If you roll the die pool above against 3 challenge dice, for example, you end up with a 45% chance of getting boons, a 30% chance of getting banes, and only a 25% chance of getting neither. You can see it starting in the second graph in this post, where the light blue line shows equal odds of getting 1 bane or zero. That plateau turns into a peak (or a capital "M" shape), and then grows ever more extreme as you throw more dice at it. In a future post, I'll revisit this interesting aspect of variance in the warhammer dice, and how it differs from what you'll find in most other RPG mechanics.

Credit: In my previous post, I did all the math myself, but for this one, I saved myself some trouble and lots of drudge work by using a wonderful internet resource, John Jordan's WHFRP 3rd Probability tool. It saved me hours, and allowed me to test graphs up into dice pools you'd never be able to fit in your hand.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Purple Is The Two Black

This post is about the dice in Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play 3rd Edition. Specifically, the Challenge Dice and Misfortune Dice. This will probably be the first in a series of posts looking at various aspects of the often-opaque mechanics of Warhammer 3rd.

Rather than save the big surprise for the end, I'm going to put the most important conclusions of this article right up front where you can't miss them:
  • 1 Challenge Die is about equal to 2 Misfortune dice. For the past month and a half I thought it was nearly as potent as 3 Misfortune dice, but I was grossly mistaken.
  • Improved Active Defenses barely improve your defensive stats over the "non-improved" versions. They are a tiny bit misleading in that regards, because the real benefit isn't what you'd think it is.

The Challenge dice are purple 8-siders, and the Misfortune Dice are black 6-siders. The challenge die is decked out with various penalty symbols, and has only 1 blank side. The misfortune die has half it's sides blank. Clearly the challenge die is much nastier than the misfortune die.

These pie charts show us the distribution of failure symbols and banes on a single die of either type:

On those pie charts (and the ones below), blue represents failure symbols (the little crossed swords that cancel out successes / hammers), and orange represents banes (the little skulls that cancel out boons / eagles and thus cause negative side-effects). The white region is the blank sides, and the black region is the dreaded Chaos Star (which sometimes counts as just another bane, but often presents much nastier side effects of its own). To generate the charts, I just entered in the percentages of each possible outcome into a spreadsheet, and had Open Office generate charts for me. The larger the area, the greater the percentage of rolls it will come up on. A quarter of the circle corresponds to 1/4 of all rolls, etc. As an extra note, the darker I colored the area, the stronger the effect (i.e.: Medium blue is 2 failures, but light blue is just 1 failure).

It's obvious that one challenge die is much worse than 1 misfortune die, but just how much worse is a little harder to figure out. Is it worth 2 misfortune dice? 3 misfortune? Let's look at a few more charts to figure that out. Here's the challenge die pie chart again, but this time we'll set it next to a chart that shows the combined results of 2 misfortune dice:

With charts like this, comparing the dice becomes a relatively simple matter of eye-balling it. I kept the colors the same, but added in purple to represent mixed results of both failures and banes. If you want to know what percentage of the rolls will result in one or more failure symbols, look at the blue and purple blocks. If you want to know what percentage generates bane symbols, look at the purple, orange, and black blocks.

In this case, the blue section of the challenge die chart is smaller than the blue and purple section of the two misfortune dice chart, so we know that you'll be more likely to get at least one failure symbol on the misfortune dice. However, the challenge die generates more banes (and chaos stars) as evidenced by the size of the orange and black sections of that chart being bigger than the orange and purple section of the 2 misfortune chart. Exactly which is worse, 1 Challenge Die or 2 Misfortune Dice, largely depends on the situation. In some Location cards, and for some Action cards, a Chaos Star can be devastating. In those cases, the Challenge die is worse. In all other situations, they're about equal.

(For those who are oriented towards numbers instead of visuals, the challenge die has a 37.5% chance of generating at least one bane. Two misfortune dice rolled together have only a 30.56% chance of generating at least one bane. Failure odds on the dice are 50% for a challenge die, and 55.56% on the pair of misfortune dice.)

The equality of 1 Challenge die and 2 Misfortune was a big shock to me. There's numerous points in the rules (and cards) of the game that imply 1 Challenge is the next step after 2 misfortune. That would suggest it's worth either 2.5 or even 3 misfortune dice, but it's not.

The best example of this implication is the Advanced Defense cards. They all turn your existing Parry or Dodge from 2 misfortune dice into 1 challenge die, and provide some other minor benefit almost as an afterthought. It turns out the minor benefit is actually the lion's share of the bonus provided by upgrading to an Advanced Defense card. Don't take Advanced Parry because you want your parries to do a better job of protecting you from enemy attacks, as the growth in that area is minimal. Instead, if you take Advance Parry, it should be because it will sometimes make one of your attack cards recharge faster. That's the only real benefit over the normal Parry.

The chart to the left illustrates my point about the Improved Parry. This graph takes a typical attack roll (4 Characteristics Dice, 1 Expertise Die, and 1 Fortune Die) and charts the odds of scoring 0, 1+, 2+, or 3+ successes. The different colored lines correspond to various levels of defense.

In particular, pay attention to the brown and yellow lines, which overlap significantly. The yellow line is vs 1 challenge and 2 misfortune, essentially an attack against a target in leather armor who uses Parry and has Weapon Skill Trained. The brown line is vs 2 challenge, essentially an attack against a target in leather armor who uses Improved Parry (and thus also has Weapon Skill Trained, since it's one of the prerequisites). The target with Improved Parry will be hit 70.37% of the time, and the target with the normal Parry will be hit 72.78% of the time.

A similar relationship exists between the light-green and light-blue lines on that chart. They're against a target with 1 point of Defense, so he's got slightly better armor. Again, having an "improved" active defense only shaves a tiny bit off the odds of being hit (down from 65.42% to 63.25%), and the two lines are practically on top of each other. The challenge die is just a hair's breadth more potent than 2 misfortune dice. Adding one more misfortune die has a lot more impact than converting two misfortune into a challenge (about 7% improvement, instead of about 2.5%, in the specific dice pools shown on the chart).

For the sake of completeness, I'll provide one more pie chart, this time a picture of the results of rolling 3 misfortune dice. I'll again set it side-by-side with the familiar 1 challenge die graph for comparison:

Interestingly enough, three misfortune dice have exactly the same odds of all coming up blank as does a single challenge die. That, coupled with the challenge die's strong chance of rolling 2 failures, were both factors in my over-estimating the power of a challenge die when I first started playing with the game.

Another non-obvious "advantage" to the 3 misfortune dice comes in the form of "mixed" or "overlapping" results, represented by the purple regions of the above pie charts. Rolls that fail because of a challenge die are likely to have a "silver lining" in that they'll score boons, but rolls against a handful of misfortune dice are likely to negatively impact both your successes and your boons.

Monday, May 10, 2010

By the time you read this, it will probably be too late... get the Humble Indy Bundle at the amazing price of "Pay what you want". Sale ends tonight, and I just found out about it twenty minutes ago. If it's still Monday when you're reading this, it's worth popping over to

It's a bundle of five computer games in a bundle that you set the price on. You can even decide how much of what you pay goes to the developers, and how much goes to charity. I paid $20 total, divided evenly. The friend who told me about it had paid that much, and it sounded reasonable to me. I've never played any of them, but $20 seemed worth risking to support this business model, and get to try 5 games I know next to jack about (the only one on the list I'd even heard of before was World of Goo). Zero downside to me, not like $20 is gonna break the bank or anything.

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.