Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Simpler Horsemanship

During a recent battle on horseback, I noted a few things about horses in Warhammer FRP 3rd Ed.  Horses in Warhammer 3rd are:
  • Complicated. There's a lot of rules that aren't easily summarized, so you'll probably have to look them up every fight or chase.
  • Not particularly fast. If a horse raced a PC with Toughness 4, the PC would win and/or the Horse would fall over dead.
  • A serious liability. Unless really built to maximize the mandatory Ride check at the start of each fight, a mounted PC has a really good chance of never getting to take an Action during the fight. If you fail the initial roll vs 2 Purple, you're completely screwed.
These observed facts annoyed me. I'm really not keen on PCs making the same die roll repeatedly, nor on them losing their action turn after turn as a side-effect of spending money on a supposed beneficial item. So, I booted up Strange Eons (a cool fan-made program for creating fan-made Warhammer cards) and decided to make myself a simpler and less double-edged Riding Horse.

What's changed:
  • You only ever make 1 Ride check for control per encounter (unless some enemy has a Fear rating), instead of a bad roll on turn 1 resulting in all your actions in later turns being replaced by harder-and-harder Ride checks. 
  • A failed ride roll means the horse panics and carries you away to Medium range, spending 1 Wind. After that initial retreat, the only lingering penalty is a single misfortune die for the rest of the fight.
  • The amount of movement per Wind point spent has been increased. 1 Wind = 2 Movement Manoeuvres now, so that slightly above-average humans are no longer faster sprinters than horses. 
  • A horse with no Wind dies. Skip the die rolls entirely.
  • All the rules are conveniently located on a card in front of you, so you don't have to crack open a book unless someone is using Perform a Stunt to unhorse a rider (or something).

The movement thing in particular was kind of a big deal to me. PCs outracing horses just undermines my suspension of disbelief. In the real world, a horse's galloping speed is between 30 and 55 mph depending on the breed, whereas the world record for a human doing the 100m dash works out to about 23 mph. Warhammer's "Swift" rules had that kinda backwards. In the original rules, assuming you made your initial Ride check, you could at maximum make your Riding Horse move 7 Movement Manoeuvres without penalty (other than spending Wind). If they made an 8th Movement Manoeuvre in a turn, the horse has a 37% chance of dying on the spot. By comparison, a PC with 4 Toughness can make 5 Movement Manoeuvres per turn without penalty, up to 9 if they're willing to earn some temporary black dice, and at 10 they pass out. So a Reiklander on foot could literally race a horse to death and win. In my version, each Wind spent provides 2 Movement Manoeuvres, so the horse can theoretically go 12 Manoeuvres in a turn without dying… once.

Astute readers will notice also that my card blurs the line between Wind and Obedience. I initially did this because it's a pain in the butt to make the Strange Eons card template say "Wind" instead of "Obedience" over the tracking triangles. The two mechanics are nearly identical anyway, with the only real difference being what happens when you run out of Wind/Obedience.

With that in mind, I eliminated the die rolls for dying when your Wind is "Blown", and made death a sure thing. It sounds cruel (especially coming from a vegetarian) but the horse is effectively equipment in-game. In the real world, swords get blunted, bent or broken with repeated combat. I'm not interested in rules that cover sword-maintenance in excruciating detail, so I'm not interested in detailed horse-maintenance either. One of my design goals was to reduce bean-counting and repetitive die-rolling. Rolling to see if the horse lives or dies is admittedly an interesting mini-game that certainly has dramatic potential, but it's mostly going to come up during a fight scene when we're already busy with other more important things, such as whether-or-not the PC dies.   Note that I am only talking about "equipment" horses here (and I am totally going to lose my vegetarian liscence if I keep saying that). If and when a PC takes a career (Outrider or Knight) that gives them a special horse, I'll revisit this and either re-institute die rolls for such a horse, or else just hand-wave it like the Ratcatcher's unkillable dog.

Crossed Swords Clarification: 
The challenge icon on the card is meant as short hand for "if you fail the test". I was just trying to save space. Likewise, the crossed-swords and chaos-star line can be read as "If you fail the test and also roll a chaos star" which was what it took to fall off the saddle in the original rules. Neither of these failed test results actually require any challenge symbols (the crossed swords icon) to be rolled, they merely require a net result of 0 or fewer successes.

None of this has seen any real playtest yet. The rules to Warhammer are exceptionally opaque, so there could be unforseen ripple effects I'm not anticipating. It's possible the Ride test needs a higher difficulty, since the downside to failure is less drastic. It's possible the diceless Blown rules will be too harsh. I've found that if I hold off posting things till they're fully tested and vetted, I usually forget to post them at all.

No comments: