Friday, June 18, 2010

You got your Everway in my Warhammer!

This is an article about how I folded two very different game systems into one another, and found the place where they intersect to be more immediately enjoyable than either on it's own.

First, some context about the two games:
The new(-ish) Warhammer FRP has some really awesome groundbreaking elements like group initiative, abstract movement, multiple-axis of success, and wickedly cool dice. However, on the whole it's a lot more fiddly than I'd like it to be, and it involves a boatload of components that hog the table-space. It's a strange (but mostly enjoyable) mix of complicated bean-counting and elegant time-saving innovations. It's a game that can't quite decide on its target audience. Too fiddly for fans of most indy games, too revolutionary and abstract for those who approach combat as a comfortable tactical challenge.

Everway is a cool older game that was one of the first really light and abstract game systems. But it's in practice, too light. Combat is entirely narrative, and things like damage, healing, initiative, and even who wins any given conflict is almost entirely a matter of GM fiat. With the right group, and the right GM, a good dose of trust, and plenty of time to get the balance of the non-mechanics fine-tuned, it can be incredible. I've had some fun with Everway before, and gotten a lot of joy from Amber, another game with roughly the same level of GM fiat and rules non-existence. While I like that style of gaming, I know they're not for everyone. If you're playing infrequently, don't know your play group well, or want a little more "game" in your game, Everway is not a good choice.

Hauling out my old Crunchometer, I'd say Everway is an umistakeable c4. It's light and simple, the rules could fit on a single page. Character creation is entirely open-ended, with the exception of four very basic and flexible attributes. There's hardly any math involved in character creation, and far less while you're actually playing.

Warhammer 3rd, on the other hand, occupies no single niche, and instead is spread across a hazy band near the other end of the spectrum. It's a c20 that plays more like a c12 (and gets to that lower rating by incorporating some features usually found in a c6).

The resulting hybrid was about a c8, which for me is pretty much the sweet spot where the gaming is really good. I was very happy with the way it turned out.
I'm not sure exactly how I realized that Warhammer had exactly what Everway was missing, but after that thought popped into my head last week, I started noticing other similarities. The real breakthrough came when I realized that in both games, nearly all character attributes will be in the range of 3 to 6 (the extreme apex of the range is higher in Everway, but in practice I've never seen a PC go above 7 and most don't go above 5). Which meant the basics of Warhammer's intriguing dice system could be ported over into Everway without having to make major changes to the character creation system of the lighter game. From there, it all fell into place organically.

Friday night, after arriving in Portland, I taught the basics of the system to my three players (two of which had never played either Everway or Warhammer), and they created characters. On Saturday, we played all day long (about 10 hours of play, IIRC), and everyone had a blast. It was probably the best gaming I'd ever had with this particular group.

So here's how "EverHammer" works. Character creation is identical to Everway. All the differences are in game play, not character creation.

The four elemental attributes use blue warhammer dice to actively do things. The difficulty is a number of dice equal to the defender's relevant stat, of which the first die is purple and rest are black. So if an archer with Air 5 attacks a target with Fire 4, they'd roll 5 blue dice, 1 purple and 3 black (about a 57% success rate, and the counter-attack with the stats flipped would be about a 37% success rate).

Powers added either white or yellow dice to active rolls. As I ran it, I had 0-point powers add a white die, and powers that cost a point or more add a yellow. I'm not 100% certain that was the right break point. The way I did it worked, but it might not have been optimal. I could see reserving the yellow die for powers whose points come from the "Major" quality, instead, for example.

If a power was defensive in nature, it added a purple die to the roll.

Additional white and black dice could be (and frequently were) applied as improvised situational and terrain modifiers.

In all cases, dice pools flow from the character creation system, and causality comes from the shared game world and goes into the dice. Never the other way around. In other words, you can't buy a yellow die on it's own, or upgrade a power to Major just to get a die.
Likewise, if a power is defined as "immunity to fire" and that character is attacked with normal mundane fire they cannot take damage. We still roll, to see if there's any fatigue changes or fortune effects (see below) but damage is off the table. If they were attacked by magical fire, or dragon breath, or some complicated mix of fire and something else (such as a volcanic explosion) then damage might be a possibility but they'd get the bonus purple die for defending with the fire immunity.
I ditched the stance system from Warhammer. I'm not sure I had to, there's probably some reasonably elegant way to work in red and green dice (possibly Fire & Air = Red, Earth & Water = Green), and finding meaning for the delay icons despite not having action cards (more about that later). I was a little pinched for time (having gotten the idea for this system less than 72 hours before we were going to be playing it), and didn't want to try to figure out how to include that extra layer of complexity that comes from stance.

You roll the dice, do all the cancellations, and if there's at least 1 success left, you hit for normal damage. If you score 3 successes, you hit for double damage. Normal damage is 1 card. I made some wound cards to handle this, they were basically the equivalent of a critical wound from Warhammer. I'll probably devote an article to discussing them in depth at some future date, because I think there's some non-obvious considerations on what types of criticals enhance a fight scene, and what just ruin the game. If you suffer more wounds than you have points of Earth, you pass out. Any hit after that point could be a Coup de grĂ¢ce.

For purely mental attacks, I ginned up a "disorder deck" that's basically criticals for mind powers. It's got a bit of overlap with various critical hits, insanity cards, and party tension meter effects from Warhammer. Again, when I get around to writing the article on the wound cards, I'll revisit this topic in depth.

Boons and banes were handled more simply than in Warhammer as well, eliminating all the complicated effects of various action cards. I kept fatigue, but rolled stress into it so there was just one type of fatigue point to worry about. I ran it with the existing Warhammer rule of 2+ banes = 1 fatigue, but in hindsight, I think I'll run that as 1+ bane = 1 fatigue next time. There were a lot of rolls of 1 boon or 1 bane, and not enough fatigue going around (An Everway character is less likely than a Warhammer character to have a weak-spot that fatigue penalizes.) If fatigue is higher than the active attribute, each additional point of fatigue adds a black die. Passing out sucks, and the wound system already emphasized Earth enough, so I set the pass-out to 10 instead of something attribute-based. One could argue the other way around (that wounds should be a set high number and fatigue based on Earth), and I wouldn't have a good counter-argument. I did what I did, and it seemed to work.

In theory, I still kept the door open for location cards to have more elaborate / non-fatigue-related boon or bane effects. I wasn't quite organized enough to implement that to the extent I would have liked this time out, but I'll be ready with it next time we play.

The biggest changes to the dice mechanics involved the Sigmar's Comet and Chaos Star results. In Warhammer, there's a lot of options when one of these is rolled, and deciding which option to invoke really slows down the process as either can change the other dice in the pool. Comets can, on a Warhammer attack roll, be used as a success, used as a boon, trigger a comet-line of an action, or add a critical hit. It's a lot to contemplate, and the chaos stars aren't any easier. I got rid of all the dice/symbol switching options, and just made these special symbols trigger a card draw. You'd flip over the top card of Everway's Fortune Deck, and if you rolled a Comet the GM would interpret that card in a beneficial way. If you rolled a Chaos symbol, the GM would interpret the card in a negative way. In theory this could have been as severe as a wound, but in general it was narrative effects and bonuses or penalties on future rolls. For next time, I may draft up a list of suggested/default effects by card type or severity.

I used the "group initiative" system from Warhammer 3rd. Initiative rolls were made with the water attribute, because it's linked to senses and awareness, and because Water was looking to be the least-used attribute otherwise (since Earth determines health and Fire and Air determine most attack rolls).

We used abstract movement rules and manoeuvre system per Warhammer 3rd, and the associated fatigue costs. Late in character creation after everyone was done with the Everway Vision Cards, I sorted out all the pictures of places to use as Warhammer Location Cards. I definitely need to supplement this deck, but it worked well enough for 10 hours of mostly-improvised adventure.

Pretty much everything else was pure Everway.

The hybrid system worked well. It had enough going on to spark some interesting challenges during the fights, including an interesting exchange with 2 PCs trying to draw the attention of the bad guys to protect a third that resulted in a very fluid rolling battle. Outside of combat, it was non-intrusive and simple enough that no role-playing scenes were disrupted by needing to consult rules. I think we were all very pleased with the results. There's a few things we'll do a little differently next time, but in general it exceeded all my expectations. Good gaming all around.

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