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.

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