Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Brainstorming about Observation checks

Someone over at the Warhammer Forums was having a problem with Observation checks for clue-hunting in a published scenario. A PC searched a location that had a hidden object, and the adventure called for an Observation check vs 3 Purple dice. The PC failed the roll, and suddenly the rest of the party wanted to dog-pile on it... despite there being no in-character reason for the PCs to suddenly find that particular bookcase interesting. Success rates in Warhammer are generally high, so 3 or 4 players all making the same roll is pretty much a guaranteed eventual success no matter the difficulty.

That GM wanted advice or options, and I gave them 12 possibilities. Cross-posted here:

  1. Only allow one check per location or clue, ever. Let the PC with the best Observation check roll it, and all others in the room add white dice for assisting. If they ask to check there again, explain that the consequence of failure was that their characters are now convinced there's nothing there. Just like how failing a Charm roll might actually upset the NPC you wanted to charm. Or like how failing an attack roll means the foe gets to counterattack before your next action.  Or how a failed Athletics check leaves you at the bottom of a ravine with several wounds. Failed checks have meaningful consequences.
  2. Only allow one check per day or per act. This is the less extreme version of the above method. You're temporarily convinced there's nothing there,  but you can come back later with a fresh perspective after thinking about it for a while.
  3. Allow additional attempts on the spot, but make each subsequent roll have escalating difficulty.  Ever have that experience of looking for your lost keys and you search the same room again and again only to eventually find it in plain sight somewhere you just could not think to look at? So frustrating, right? You can simulate that by adding +1 purple per check that preceded it. Eventually the banes and chaos stars will start to look daunting.
  4. Allow the rolls, but award Stress and/or Party Tension for each one after the first. "I all ready looked over there, Johann, I'm tellin' you it's not there!"
  5. Make each subsequent search take longer, or make more noise. Eventually an NPC will hear them or walk in on them. Can be combined with methods #3 or #4.  These are great bane and chaos star consequences, for example.
  6. Make your rolls per room instead of per sub-location within the room. The scenario says there's a 3-die test for checking the shelves. Don't roll when they check the shelves, roll when they check the room in general. Difficulty is 4 dice if they don't go into detail, reduced to 3 dice (or even 3 purple plus 1 white) if they specifically mention the shelf. EDIT for context: The original forum post had this extra complication that the scenario notes called for a roll only if the PCs examined the shelves.  I originally didn't mention it here, as it's mostly beside the point.
  7. Use the die roll only if the PCs search the room but fail to mention the specific part of the room the clue is in. If they specifically check the shelf, they automatically find the thing that's hidden there. If they just toss the room, they roll the 3-dice.
  8. Reduce all search difficulties everywhere to some standard number you're okay with, probably 1 or 2 purple. Use that same difficulty whether the hidden thing is plot-critical, trivial, or completely nonexistent. It's a bonus to the GM in that the PCs can't metagame the difficulties, but also a bonus to the PCs in that the hardest difficulties have been reduced. Everybody wins.
  9. Make all searches have a difficulty of exactly 1 purple, but with a variable (hidden) number of successes needed to reveal the clue. Similar to the mechanics the game uses for First Aid checks, and the recovery rolls from Diseases/Insanities/Criticals. The 1 purple is so there's a chance of stress or location-specific consequences. If the scenario notes call for a 3-difficulty die roll, translate that to mean they need a net of 3 successes to actually find the clue. Tell the players that this is the way you're handling it from now on, but never tell them the actual number of successes needed to find a specific clue in a specific place.
  10. Base the difficulties on who hid it, not how well they hid it. An NPC who's very careful and secretive sets a 3 or 4 die search die difficulty on his bedroom and office even if there's nothing there. Let the PCs know that's how it's going to work. They still get metagamy info, but it's more about the personality of the NPC instead of revealing "the clue is on this shelf somewhere". It's worth noting that "NPC is private and detail-oriented" does not mean "NPC is hiding an evil secret" but either could result in high purples on the search.
  11. Take the approach that the Gumshoe RPGs use: Clues are meant to be discovered, they exist to advance the plot. Make clue discovery automatic if the player's search the right places. No rolls at all. Fast and simple, and it favors the players so most of them won't complain. One small problem is that Intelligence and Observation are slightly devalued this way, so it might not be an ideal method if a PC has invested heavily in those stats. (As those with low Int + Obs will steal scenes that would otherwise be his spotlight moments.)
  12. Make clue discovery automatic so the plot doesn't stall out, but still roll the normal number of dice just for the bane & chaos-star results. If you technically failed the roll, you still get the clues, but it means you've left evidence of your tampering that the villain will later notice. This keeps the plot from stalling out (which can often happen if the PCs miss a vital clue) but it still rewards players for investing in Intelligence and Observation. 

To that, I could have easily added a 13th option: "Ditch those players and find yourself some new players that can keep out-of-character knowledge compartmentalized for the sake of the game." I decided to keep that one off the forums, since it's a little incendiary.

Personally, I've been using method #1 in my campaign. Reflecting on it this morning, I'm now inclined to use methods #9 and/or #12 in conjunction with it.

Monday, July 22, 2013

What's Actually "New" in the WFRP Player's Guide?

When the WFRP Player's Guide was released, I purposefully chose not to buy it. FFG was a little unclear about how much new content there was in it, making conflicting statements of "there's better examples, integrated errata, and new GMing advice so everyone should get a copy" at the same time as they said "this is NOT a 3.5 edition or a money-grab, and existing groups won't be missing out on anything critical if they pass on this." (Those are not exact quotes, just paraphrases.) Since the errata was already in a free FAQ, which then got updated to include all the new typos and misprints in the Player's Guide, I figured that I really didn't need it. I was running one-shots of the game a couple times a year, so $50 for a mostly reprinted book wasn't worth it.

Fast forward to this spring, when I started an actual campaign. A couple of my players picked up the PDF version of the Player's Guide to help them learn the rules and plan out their XP spends. It only took a couple weeks for it to become really obvious that the rules they were reading and referencing where functionally different from the rules I was using at the table. Grumbling all the way to the game store, I picked up a copy for myself to get us back on the same page. At first glance, it didn't seem that different. I felt like I dropped $50 for 6 paragraphs of new information. They were critical paragraphs that I felt I needed, but they seemed to be the most overpriced paragraphs I'd ever bought. I was bitter and resentful at first.

As the weeks wore on, however, I discovered plenty of new little gems and variations hidden inside those covers. Last week I set it and the other rulebooks down side-by-side, and made notes on what was new or different. I'm now really glad I bought the book.

I figure I can't be the only WFRP player or GM that felt reluctant to pick up that book. For those of you out there trying to decide if the Player's Guide is worth the $50 on top of the $100 core set, I'm including below a chapter-by-chapter break down of what's new or different in the Guide.

Extremely trivial changes (such as indexes and page references, bolding or italicization, or non-functional minor typo fixes) will not be documented here. There's hundreds of little tiny changes like that.

New rules or useful content will be listed, but for the most part summarized instead of detailed. The point is to let you know what's new and whether or not you want to buy the book (and to draw your attention to the things that have changed) not to spoil all the details so you don't have to buy it.

EDIT: Really important stuff will now be in bold to make it easier to find the things that functionally alter game play.

Physical Differences:
  • Durable hardcover. If you loaned this to a player for the week, you'd expect to get it back in one piece, unlike the fragile little paperback booklets that come in the various box sets.
  • Book, not bits. Some folks would prefer a more traditional roleplaying experience where you look things up in books, take notes on paper and roll on charts instead of having cards and tokens to track the mechanics. If that's a big deal to you, the Player's Guide will be very helpful.
  • The Table of Contents reveals that this product offers the original 10 chapters from the core set main rulebook, plus 2 new chapters and 2 chapters originally from other books, plus 9 appendices of card stats.
  • The first 16 pages are mostly a reprint of the intro to the core rules. 
  • pg 6-7: New example of play. Nice, but not terribly useful.
  • pg 6: "WFRP Lite" Sidebar briefly discusses play without the bits, which also gets its' own chapter later.  
  • Disease & Mutation cards, and Corruption tokens are shown off in passing. Their brief descriptions are taken from the Signs of Faith and Winds of Magic supplements.
  • pg 15: "Expanding the Adventure" sidebar is basically an advertisement.
  • pg 16: An amusing bit of in-character fluff, in the form of a letter from one cultist to another.

Chapter One: Characteristics & Abilities
This chapter is mostly a reprint of the corresponding chapter of the core set rulebook.
  • pg 18: Corruption Threshold explanation taken from Winds of Magic.
  • pg 18: Fortune Point info is reworded for clarity, but most groups were probably already interpreting it correctly.
  • pg 20: There's a sidebar about what sort of things do and don't gain you Fortune Points. This is new, as far as I can tell, and it makes explicit something that's only vaguely implied in the core set. Fortune Points are not just a reward for good roleplaying and contributing to the fun, they are also intended as rewards for advancing the plot, gathering clues and defeating foes. That's huge!
  • pg 21: New recommended specialization for the Animal Handling skill.
  • pg 21: Sidebar about Dodge, Parry and Block. If you've read the FAQ you already have this info.
  • pg 22-23: Changed recommended specializations for the Invokation and Piety skills, to properly distinguish them from one another.
  • pg 24: Tradecraft skill gets a little more explanatory info. 
  • pg 24: No change to the Weapon Skill specializations, they still don't match the list in the Equipment chapter. That's silly.
  • pg 26: New rules about decreasing Party Tension. It's officially never bad.
  • pg 26: New rules about the Party Card. Nothing terribly major, but worth reading and knowing about.
  • pg 27: An amusing bit of in-character fluff, in the form of a political communique.

Chapter Two: Player Character Races
This chapter is mostly a reprint of the corresponding chapter of the core set rulebook.
  • Corruption Thresholds are listed for all races. This info is drawn from Winds of Magic.

Chapter Three: Character Creation
This chapter is mostly a reprint of the corresponding chapter of the core set rulebook.
  • pg 34: Clarification that creation points are not interchangeable with XP or Advances.
  • pg 37: Clarifies you can spend money at creation, but that the GM must approve or veto each purchase.
  • pg 37: Optional rule linking starting wealth to social tier.
  • pg 38: Clarifies Wizard & Priests Order or Faith cards are free, but other unusual slots (namely the Zealot's insanity) cost Talents.
  • pg 39: Sidebar clarifies that Priests don't get all the free skills that wizards do, and usually not nearly as many free actions, either. Technically, this info can be inferred in the core set, but it's never really stated as clearly as it is here in the Player's Guide.
  • pg 40: Helpful instructions on calculating Thresholds, Soak, and Defense. Useful for new players.
Chapter Four: Experience & Advancement
This chapter is mostly a reprint of the corresponding chapter of the core set rulebook. There's a lot of technically new content, but most of it can already be found online in the free FAQ document for the game.
  • pg 43: Clarification on Fixed Advances.
  • pg 43: Clarification on Skill Training per Rank. 
  • pg 45: Clarification on Open Advances.
  • pg 45: Clarification / New Rule on Characteristic Maximums.
  • pg 46: New rule that Career Dedication costs 1 XP.
  • pg 47: New rule that Specialist keyword is never compatible during career transition.
  • pg 47: Clarification on when you can take Advanced Careers.
  • pg 47: Clarifies that Career Transition may alter your Default Stance.
  • pg 47: New Optional Rule: Minimum Career Duration is 4 advances, so human characters can't cherrypick careers for key Advances. This is huge, and not in the FAQ.
  • pg 47: "Careers as Story Aids" sidebar. Talks about reskinning careers to fit the story and character concepts. This is cool, but also kinda weird.

Chapter Five: Playing The Game
This chapter is mostly a reprint of the corresponding chapter of the core set rulebook. A couple  errors (in the core set version of the text) with unfortunate implications have been deleted or fixed in this version.
  • pg 49: Clarification that dice are also used in Story Mode. 
  • pg 51-52: Clarifications (bordering on "new rule" territory) about difficulty levels. As it turns out, "Average (2d) difficulty" is poorly named. The default difficulty of just about everything is intended to be less than that. The impact of this clarification is really potent and dramatic. It completely changes the tone of the game in the direction of greater levels of PC competency and heroism.
  • pg 52: Acknowledges that Opposed Checks intentionally favor the active player. This is the reward for being proactive and advancing the plot.
  • pg 52: Clarification about the impact of the target's skills on an Opposed Roll.
  • pg 53: The GM is specifically empowered to narrate spontaneous "worst case scenarios" whenever Chaos Stars are rolled.
  • pg 54: The GM can limit or disallow use of the Assist manoeuvre as befits the situation.
  • pg 54: Suggestions for ways to interpret a multi-success roll when the player is not using an action card.
  • pg 55: Optional rules for "Freestyle" Boons, Banes, Comets and Chaos Stars. This section really empowers the GM to interpret the heck out of the dice. It transforms the more mechanistic "board-gamey" tactical elements of the game into a free-wheelin' improvisational story game. It puts a ton of power into the GM's hands, and even gives the players a bit of that power when they roll excess boons.
  • pg 58: Deleted a confusing statement in the original text about race influencing stance, which it doesn't.
  • pg 59-60: Great examples of the more flexible interpretation of dice pools as presented in this chapter.
  • pg 60: An amusing bit of in-character fluff about Fortune Tellers, the Celestial College, and Doomsayers of Morr... which culminates in a joke about the weird dice.

Chapter Six: Actions & Manoeuvres
This chapter is mostly a reprint of the corresponding chapter of the core set rulebook.
  • pg 63: Sidebar about how Traits on cards aren't intended as purchasing restrictions, but could totally be used as such if that makes the GM happy.
  • pg 64: Miscellaneous clarifications about defenses and reactions.
  • pg 65: The new sidebar on the phrasing of things on action cards is probably really useful for new players.
  • pg 65: Clarification that you cannot assist yourself.
  • pg 65: Clarification (new rule, technically, but it's clearly what was originally intended) that you can spend a manoeuvre to change a talent on your followers (such as the ratcatcher's dog).
  • pg 66: "Action vs Manoeuvre" sidebar clarifies when a skill check should or shouldn't consume your entire turn.
  • pg 66: A formerly-optional rule from the GM's Toolkit supplement about NPC Aggression and Fatigue is here reprinted as an official core rule.
  • pg 66-67: Clarifications, advice on, and better examples of movement.
  • pg 67: New rule about the transitive property of engagements, and another about the GM's power to break engagements into smaller ones if they get too large.
  • pg 68: Sidebar about Perform A Stunt. Worth a quick read.

Chapter Seven: Modes of Play
This chapter has a fair amount of new content, plus a good chunk of mildly revised content from the combat section of the core set rulebook, plus some content that's paraphrased from the GM's Toolkit.
  • The reprinted material here is useful in that it's been mostly cleaned of it's combat-relevant wordage. There's some redundancy between this chapter and the next one, but it gives you your option of reading it with or without the baggage of the initiative, combat and damage systems.
  • pg 70-71: Better definitions of Story Mode vs Encounter Mode. Provides guidance for handling stance, recharge, turn length, and equilibrium in Story Mode. Very helpful material.
  • pg 71: The "Get On With It!" sidebar actually says that if the players try to abuse the timing and recharge rules between encounters (such as to spam-heal) the GM should have orcs kick in the door and attack them.
  • pg 71-72: Good example of Story Mode in play, and GM improv.
  • pg 73: New rules and clarifications on initiative rolls for NPCs and PCs. Rules cover stance dice, boons and banes, and other issues pertaining to initiative.
  • pg 73: Explicit statement that round and turn length is variable and cinematic, not a simulation of a precise amount of time.
  • pg 75: Guidance on adding additional participants in the middle of a fight.
  • pg 75: New precedent for resolving multiple effects at once (such as multiple triggers that happen "at the start of your next turn").
  • pg 75: New rule: You cannot manoeuvre yourself to KO, the last manoeuvre is cancelled instead.
  • pg 76: Clarifications on when you chose the targets of a multi-target action.
  • pg 76: Clarifications on the difficulty of action cards, and also specifically which ones Defense applies to.
  • pg 76: Read the "Common Sense Restrictions to Targeting" sidebar, which is mostly about Line of Sight and adjusting difficulty on the fly. It may be common sense, but it's critical.
  • pg 79: The info on this page about the 3-Act structure and Rally Steps is basically a summary of a chapter from the Tome of Adventure, but this section smartly puts that data in the player's hands (which is exactly where it belongs).

Chapter Eight: Combat, Damage & Healing
This chapter is mostly a reprint of the corresponding chapter of the core set rulebook. Some of it is somewhat redundant following the previous chapter of the Guide, but still useful because of being reworded to include all the details of combat and damage.
  • pg 81: Clarifies that Active Defenses are intended to be used before the die pool is rolled.
  • pg 81-82: New ruling that spells and blessings that do damage do not have the default unprinted comet line that non-magical melee and ranged attacks do.
  • pg 82: Minor GMing advice for using custom equipment on NPCs.
  • pgs 82 to 84: Lots of good examples. The extended example involving Accurate Shot has been fixed so the numbers and details are correct and make sense. No more confusion.
  • pgs 82 and 86: Clarifications on critical wounds and damage terminology.
  • pg 85: New rule that Fatigue and Stress generated in Story Mode isn't inflicted until Encounter Mode starts so that this actually has an impact and can't be spammed away without consequence.
  • pg 87: Clarification that if you are KO'd by something other than damage (such as fatigue) you don't check for death.
  • pg 88: GMs are advised to go easy on the players when applying freestyle bane effects for healing checks, so that healing doesn't become too dangerous.
  • pg 88-89: Major healing rules revisions. These are game-changing rules that really cut back on spam-healing via first aid or spells. 
Chapter Nine: Conditions & Effects
This chapter is mostly a reprint of the corresponding chapter of the core set rulebook.
  • pg 91: New rule defines how many tokens are put on any insanity cards you gain while you are strained. The number is one higher than it was in the core set rulebook. Read it carefully, because the new examples on the page make it clearer than the new rule text itself does.
  • pg 91: New rule and clarifications about the test to keep a temporary insanity from turning permanent. The difficulty of the roll and the number of successes needed are now clearly spelled out, and they contradict a previous answer given out by FFG's support line.
  • pg 92: Minor edits to the text to better match the previous paragraphs.

Chapter Ten: Economy & Equipment
This chapter is mostly a reprint of the corresponding chapter of the core set rulebook. While there's lots of tiny little fixes and stat changes, the clumsy overall system was sadly not revised.
  • pg 96: The new "Wrong Tool" sidebar is just an explicit reminder for the GM to add fortune and misfortune dice as appropriate for equipment and improvisation even when those dice aren't reflected in the equipment charts and descriptions.
  • pg 97: Reminders on damage calculations and resolving criticals, mostly for new players.
  • pg 98: Revisions to the "Fast" quality and the Spear stats, per the FAQ. Fast is probably too good as written here, with the result of the spear still being too good despite the heavy nerfing.
  • pg 99: New rule for stacking "Poor Quality" on a weapon with the "Unreliable" trait. It's nasty!
  • pg 101: New rule for using found stones with a sling or sling staff.
  • pg 102: New rule prevents stacking or layering of armour. This is important because clothing counts as armour in the game, but most groups probably did it right.
  • pg 102: Reminders on soak and defense, mostly for new players.
  • pgs 104-105: Costs and descriptions for lodging.
  • pgs 104-106: Costs and descriptions for transportation.
  • pg 106: The "Equipment vs Loot" sidebar makes it clear that it's rarely worth looting the bodies. This is important for flavor reasons (it's a Guild economy) as well as mechanical ones (NPCs and monsters typically have generic stats without equipment lists).
  • pgs 108-109: Stats on Greatsword of Hoeth and Gromril Armour is replicated here from the Adventurer's Toolkit.

Chapter Eleven: Magic Rules
This chapter is mostly a reprint of the corresponding chapter of the Tome of Mysteries.
  • pg 110: New rule about the winds of magic blowing across the country and how this can modify channeling rolls by location or situation.
  • pg 111: Definition of equilibrium, and clarifications and examples on power management and venting power.
  • pg 113: Clarifications on miscasting.
  • pg 116: Additional text has been added to very briefly summarize other info from the Tome of Mysteries and Winds of Magic books. It's a little light, but not as annoying as the Priestly equivalent in the next chapter.
  • pg 116: Explicit clarifications on which spells and skills you start with, and which spells a character can or can't learn. 
  • Pg 117:  An amusing bit of in-character fluff in the form of a wanted poster for a rogue Wizard.

Chapter Twelve: Divine Rules
This chapter is mostly a reprint of the corresponding chapter of the Tome of Blessings.
  • pg 119: New rules and timing clarifications about what happens when you successfully invoke a blessing but don't actually have enough Favour to pay for it.
  • pg 121: Definition of equilibrium, with clarifications and examples.
  • pg 123: Explicit clarifications on which blessings and skills you start with, and which blessings a character can or can't learn.
  • pg 123: Additional text has been added to very briefly summarize other info from the Tome of Blessings and Signs of Faith books. This is woefully incomplete. The Taal/Rhya section, for example, only mentions Taal. The omens information for Morr, Shallya and Sigmar is reprinted from the Tome of Blessings, but the equivalent info on the omens of the other gods in Signs of Faith is not reprinted.

Chapter Thirteen: The Empire
This chapter is entirely a reprint of the corresponding chapter of the core set rulebook. The only change involves moving pictures from one column to the other.

Chapter Fourteen: WFRP Lite
New rules for not using all the various cards, tokens, etc, and replacing them with the charts and appendices of this book. If the "board-gamey" cards and such are your least favorite part of WFRP, you'll love this little chapter of advice and shortcuts. Not my cup of tea, but I can understand the appeal.

Appendix 1: Basic and Advanced Careers
Appendix 2: Party Sheets & Abilities
Appendix 3: Talents
Appendix 4: Basic Actions
Appendix 5: Blessings
Appendix 6: Melee Attack Actions
Appendix 7: Ranged Attack Actions
Appendix 8: Spells
Appendix 9: Support Actions
  • These appendices compile all the cards and sheets from the first year or so of the game's releases. All such cards from the Core Set, Adventurer's and GM's Toolkits, Winds of Magic and Signs of Faith Supplements, and the adventures The Gathering Storm and Edge of Night are summarized here. Products released since then are not reprinted here. 
  • I would imagine this is very helpful for character creation and advancement, especially if you have the PDF version (which I assume can do simple search functions) or if you haven't found an organizational structure you're happy with to keep the various cards sorted. I use binders full of nine-pocket-pages sorted alphabetically, so the book version is only better for me in the sense of being more portable.
  • pg 155: Amusing fluff piece about chaos and playwrights.
A Ratcatcher's Tale
  • A short story about things you'll find in the sewers of the Old World. 
Master Index
  • Not a perfect index (if you couldn't remember whether it takes stress or fatigue to adjust your stance more than one space per turn, this index wouldn't help you figure it out) for sure, but better than none at all. Combined with the detailed table of contents from the front of the book, looking up most topics is pretty quick and painless. If you want a volume to reference at the table during play, this is more handy than the core set's un-indexed rule booklet.

That's everything new. Or, as new as it can be given that the book has been available for a couple years now.

TL;DR version: While the WFRP Player's Guide is mostly a reprint of the Core Set rules, it actually has a ton of tiny corrections, advice, and corner-case rules. They a bit scattered and hard to find, but the detailed lists above may help that. I love the cards and tokens (which this book empowers you to NOT use) and yet I still found this book very helpful. The biggest changes and most important new rules are to Healing, Advancement, default Difficulties, and the section on "Freestyle" banes/boons/comets/stars. Those alone make the book a worthy purchase for dedicated Warhammer fans, and everything good piled on top is just so much gravy.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

What does a brewery look like via Magical Sight?

A few months ago, someone on the Warhammer Forums posed a question asking what the winds of magic look like via the Magical Sight skill. There's a couple minor references in passing to it in various 3rd Ed supplements (page 15 of the Tome of Mysteries, and at points throughout Chapter 3 of the Tome of Magic), but the core book and skill descriptions really aren't helpful at all. I made up an answer on the spot, and then promptly forgot all about it. Yesterday someone reminded me it was a really good answer.
Read the original thread, or just the text of my post repeated here: Magic is described as "winds" so I would have it twist, flow, and move. Each order has it's own color, and associated properties, which I would draw in to the description. Bright Order magic flickering like flames. Jade Order magic taking organic shapes, then drifting like discarded leaves falling ever slowly to earth. Amber magic skittering about like a busy little chipmunk, then suddenly standing stalk-still when it realizes it's being watched.  Amethyst magic forming little skulls or ghostly hooded figures, then slinking off to hide in the shadows. Each order has it's own glyph or sigil, too. Some are basically arrows, so they may blow in a particular direction ceaselessly. Others are represented by concentric circles, so they may orbit or linger more.

For the chaos gods, their magic would seem tainted, but maybe not obviously so. One cool way to do it would be to always start describing it as the nearest "proper" form of magic, and then describe how it's been twisted and distorted almost as an after-thought. Or, if you prefer, more over-the-top. Nurgle magic vomits and oozes, or flits about like ghostly flies. Slaneshi magic keeps making eyes at you, and has some hypnotic rhythm to the patterns of its movements. The magic of Tzeentch the great deciever constantly reimagines itself, cycling through colors and forms in a ways that other magic cannot. Magic done by Beastmen seems feral and adversarial, even long after it's casting. Magic of the Skaven hisses and runs away when directly observed. Ork magic bumbles and cavorts in an unpredictable fashion. I'm just making this up.

One thing I would bear in mind is that magic doesn't really create magical energy, so much as it gives form to and strengthens the magical energy that is already there. On the typical city street of the empire, there will be little wisps of half a dozen different winds blowing at any time. The dead rat in the gutter has beads of Amber on its fur, but as time passes they fade and an Amethyst mist gathers about it. The watchman passing by carries an old lantern hanging disused from his pack. It's not lit at the moment, but has been a thousand times before so with Witchsight you can still see it glow or smoke ever so slightly. His coin purse has only ever held brass or silver coins, but when viewed with Magical Sight it may seem faintly embroidered in gold or yellow. Magic blows, drips, and oozes throughout the Old World. Wizards don't walk around with Magical Sight turned on at every single moment of the day, and at least part of the reason is because it would be terribly distracting to do so.
I think. Like I said, I'm mostly making this up.
I wish they'd reminded me of that post a couple days earlier, because in Sunday's game I sure could have used my own advice and descriptions. One of the PCs in my group (Lina the Bright Wizard / Mystic) activated Magical Sight during an improvised scene. She was in a completely mundane place (a brewery), there were no enchantments in play, the location was only mentioned briefly in passing in the scenario notes with no expectations the PCs would find it, we were late in the session, and there was a totally unrelated potential fight scene across town I was hoping to get to before the session ended. So my response was "Nope, Magical Sight reveals nothing. The place is clean."

Technically accurate, but good only in the sense that it didn't slow down the plot any further.  Here we have a wizard, using their signature ability to see wonderful magical things normal people can't. It's a great opportunity to give that PC the spotlight. A chance to remind the players that magic is bizarre and dangerous and permeates everything in the Warhammer setting. A potential moment to be artsy and descriptive and make the game memorable. I squandered those opportunities in the most boring and workmanlike way possible. "No magic here. Move along." Lame.

Here's what I should have said: 
"The brewery is a minor source of raw magical energy of many colors and flavors. Grains and other harvested plants are brought here, softly leaking a thin haze of jade energy that has magically stained the walls and floors in ways that are only visible to wizards. The constant exposure to this energy has made the weeds along the base of the brewery's outer wall grow just a little taller than similar plants next door. After they arrive, the grains are subjected to chemical processes that transforms them. This alchemical distillation has a Gold Order correspondence, and your gifted eyes can spot tiny drops of yellow energy beading up on every dent, kink or seam of the stills and brew tanks.  Faint golden wagon-ruts appear superimposed on the spots on the floor where the wheels of commerce roll out the door with regular shipments of ale and liquor. The place is damp with energy, but all of it raw and untamed, having never known a wizard's hand."

Pointless and long-winded, perhaps, but it would have made for a better scene and a richer campaign world.

Minor The Enemy Within Spoiler Alert:
Because of the gunpowder that had been spilled inside by the villains (which the PCs didn't know about yet) I could have added to the description: "One thing does strike you as out of place. A tiny bit of Aqshy, the whispered potential of future fire, seeping sluggishly under the crack of the door. It winks at you, slowly and longingly, hoping to catch your eye and unleash the inner spark." Not that player characters ever need an excuse to burn things to the ground, mind you, but it might have been kinda cool.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Creature Vault (and FAQ) Keywords, in Talent-sized format

Printable errata and reminder cards for use with the WFRP Creature Vault.

The Creature Vault for Warhammer FRP 3rd condenses all the creatures, NPCs, and actions from the Creature Guide down into cards that can be easily accessed at the table. Or at least, that was the goal. To save space, many creature abilities had to be keyworded, and the definitions left off the cards. Some of those definitions can be found on a one-page insert that comes with the guide, and the others (and some important errata) can be found in the official WFRP FAQ. (Available from their product support page.)

While that's certainly reasonable, it doesn't exactly match the "everything on a card in front of you / no need to search through rulebooks at the table" ethos of the WFRP3 system. So I used the Strange Eons program to gin up some Talent-card-sized reminder cards.  For the most part the actual text comes straight from FFG products or pdfs. No challenge to copyright is intended in any way, and you'd need a copy of the Creature Vault to make use of any of this. The cards are intended mostly as references and reminders, but in theory there's nothing stopping you from using them as actual Talents for monster group or nemesis sheets if you feel it's appropriate or interesting to do so.

Undead Abilities

 Dead Calm  ability.  Source: Warhammer FAQ

Dead Earnest  ability.  Source: Warhammer FAQ

Nurgle Abilities

 Diseased "ability".  Source: Warhammer FAQ

I did not make a card version for the "Mark of Nurgle" ability mentioned in the FAQ, since card versions of that ability already exist in other supplements for the game. If you want it on a card, you should go buy the Signs of Faith / Liber Infectus boxed set.

Swarm Abilities

Swarms have a ton of miscellaneous abilities that aren't obvious from the cards in the Creature Vault, so the FAQ proved extremely helpful here. Without these rules, a swarm ends up feeling like any other single monster or squad of henchmen.
 Tiny Creatures  ability.  Source: Warhammer FAQ
 Swarm Vulnerability  "ability".  Source: Warhammer FAQ

Implacable Horde  ability.  Source: Warhammer FAQ
 Filthy Vermin  ability.  Source: Warhammer FAQ

Once I typed up Filthy Vermin from the FAQ, I remembered that I'd seen a similar, but distinctly different, ability in an adventure somewhere...
Infected Wounds  ability.  Source: The Edge of Night adventure

As it turns out, The Edge of Night has completely different stats for Rat Swarms than the Creature Vault does. I'm not privy to the reasons for that decision, but this Infected Wounds power from that adventure seemed like a decent alternative power for either rats or possibly Nurgle critters of some sort.

 Swarm!  ability.  Source: The Edge of Night adventure

This is another ability possessed by the rat swarm in that adventure, but noteably lacking from the Rat Swarm in the Creature Guide. I included it here in case a GM wanted to upgrade or mix it up a bit.

Filthy Vermin very mildly alternate version

Alternate version of the Filthy Vermin card from the FAQ, labeled as a talent to give the GM a little more flexibility. Functionally the same except not necessarily restricted to rat swarms.

Giant and Troll Abilities

  Regeneration Ability  Source: Creature Vault insert
Watch Out! Ability Official Errata  Source: Warhammer FAQ

Printing this may actually be irrelevant and pointless. It's just a more clearly phrased version with less chance of misunderstanding, so only useful if the text on the Giant card seemed too vague to you.

 Watch Out! Ability  Potential House-Rule

An alternate version I contemplated while I was typing that one up. Suitable for a really large giant. I probably should have labeled it as an NPC Talent, instead of a house-rule. Hindsight is 20/20.


Used by a variety of creatures, from giant spiders to particularly vile skaven.

 Poison Ability  Source: Creature Vault insert

I wrote this up in two functionally-identical versions, except that one is labeled as a racial ability of whatever poisonous monster you want, and the other is intended as a Talent or Equipment option for intelligent NPCs. I'm not sure the distinction really matters, in hindsight.

Movement Abilities

These are used by multiple creature types, but especially beasts.

  Fast Ability  Source: Creature Vault insert

Technically this should have been listed as a racial ability, but I got sloppy and didn't notice it till I'd already saved it with the wrong label. The distinction has no mechanical difference, really, as NPC Talents officially don't exist anyway.
 Flight Ability  Source: Creature Vault insert 

Again, technically should be a racial ability, if anyone cares.
 Terrain-Walk Ability  Source: Creature Vault insert 

Generic form of the next three abilities.
 Forestwalk Ability  Source: Creature Vault insert 

Specific forest-version of the ability, in case anyone finds that more convenient for sorting or gameplay purposes.
 Swampwalk Ability  Source: Creature Vault insert 

Specific swamp-version of the ability, in case anyone finds that more convenient for sorting or gameplay purposes.
 Fenwalker Ability  Source: Warhammer FAQ

Specific fenbeast-version of the ability per the FAQ, in case anyone finds that more convenient for sorting or gameplay purposes.

Observation Abilities

These are used by multiple creature types, IIRC.
 Instinctive Ability  Source: Creature Vault insert 

Again, technically should be a racial ability, if anyone cares.
 Keen Senses Ability  Source: Creature Vault insert 

Again, technically should be a racial ability, if anyone cares.
 Night Vision Ability  Source: Creature Vault insert 

Again, technically should be a racial ability, if anyone cares.

Those are all of the keywords from the FAQ, and most of them from the insert in the Creature Vault. The insert also included Fear, Terror and Nemesis keywords, but since each has it's own elaborate rules, I'm not sure I can fit them on a single card. I suppose as a monster talent or upgrade a card that just says "Fear 2" might be helpful, but it certainly wouldn't meet my main objective of being a functional reminder of how that rule or power works.

I'm almost certain that there are other keywords on creature cards that could/should be made into reminders like this. Such as when two creatures have the same ability, but space restrictions only allowed the full rules to fit on one of them. I may or may not get around to hunting those down, making them into cards and posting them to the blog. Don't hold your breath.

Once I got started making all these reminder cards, it inspired me to also make a bunch of original NPC Talents for upgrading and customizing monsters and villains. I plan to share them on the blog, but that will definitely have to wait for some other post and time.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Enemy Within - Campaign Log - Part 6 - Session 5 - Day 4

SPOILER ALERT: This is the campaign log for the new The Enemy Within for Warhammer 3rd Ed. Most of this is early stuff (day 4 of the adventure) but 1 paragraph in particular reveals things from much further into the scenario as written. If you haven't played that far yourself, consider this fair warning. Here be SPOILERS.

I wrote this nearly a month ago, and never got around to formatting and publishing it. Even then it was late and untimely. These notes are 6 sessions (and more than 2 full months) behind. Man, have I been lazy and unfocused lately.

PC List/Reminder:
    •    Burgolt the Nobleman Pistolier
    •    Hrulgar the Dwarven Runesmith
    •    Ninewise the Initiate of Ranald
    •    Lina the Bright Wizard

This session alternated between solid plot advancement and bitter frustration. There were some reasonably good character moments, and one heck of a fight. However, every single scene was either slow to start, or got kicked in the teeth by one eccentricity or another of the Warhammer system.
Love the setting, but Love/Hate the mechanics.

Day 4 begins with a business meeting between the PCs and Sir Curd Weiss, personal agent of Graf Friedrich von Kaufman.

Sir Curd Weiss Sidebar: Per the scenario notes, Weiss is a veteran of the Pistolkorps, but there's no mention of him every becoming a Knight. Just before the session in question, one of my players mentioned that she was probably going to aim for Knighthood as her 2nd or 3rd Career. Her character, Burgolt, is already a nobleman and a Pistolier, and the career cards mention that most Knightly Orders recruit heavily from the Pistolkorps.  She had a lot of questions about how one qualifies for knighthood, and whether or not there were any opportunities in the scenario to impress (or even interact with) any existing knights.

This lead to a conversation about the Knightly Orders, and I broke out the Omens of War book to reference the details. We got as far as the Knights of the Blazing Sun, whose background seemed like a good fit for Burgolt. As it turns out, their colors are black and either gold or yellow, and their symbol is a stylized sun. Just like the coat of arms of the von Kaufman family, and the device emblazoned on Curd Weiss's outfit in his picture. Admittedly, that also describes the sign of The Grand County of Averland in general… but it was certainly a noteworthy coincidence. Especially since I knew that the very next scene I was planning to run was Curd Weiss offering the PCs a job. It's a pretty small tweak to the character's background, and easy to implement. The PC will still have to impress the NPC to qualify, but it at least gives the player a lead on doing so.
Getting that scene started was a little rough. Technically the meeting was between Curd and Lina, and only Burgolt chose to accompany her. The offer to the PCs is supposed to start at 5 silver shillings each, but half the party wasn't there. I needed to prompt the PCs to mention they had cohorts to add to the job. My in-character attempts to have Curd ask about Lina and Burgolt's working relationship were, sadly, too similar to something I had another NPC say to them in the previous session. Since flighty Luminary Mauer implied last week that Lina and Burgolt were romantic, that's how the players took Curd's innocent questions. First they assume he's making the same mistake Mauer did, and then they thought he was hitting on Lina himself. Not at all what I intended. I regret trying to handle that conversation in-character, I should have just summarized. Anyhow, after some amount of stumbling, I eventually go to the job proposal. 

Don't Split The Sidebar: My players (and to be honest nearly every group I've ever played with or GM'd for) really love to split up the party. I don't know why that is. Personally, I think splitting the party should only be done as a last-resort. A thing you do only if there's a clock ticking, or if there's a _really good_ in-character reason why it would be detrimental to include the other PCs in the scene.  Any time you split the party, it's pretty much guaranteeing that someone is going to be bored for some amount of time. It slows down the pacing, often resulting in the PCs only getting to half as much plot as they'd get to without it. It denies the party resources the GM or author expected them to have access to when encounters were designed.  It's always a handicap, but everybody does it. I'll never be able to wrap my head around that, even though I'm often guilty of this exact thing myself when I'm a player.

Curd hires the PCs (all four of them) to travel a particular road, along which some carriages and wagons have gone missing. Look for signs of banditry or accident, and return with a report. If they find this latest wagon, or the valuables it carried, return them. The most important cargo is a series of expensive Cathayan silks, but there's also some crates of wine, and several barrels of chemicals for industrial processes. If they kill some bandits in the process, there will be a bonus. At the least, they'll get 5 silver each (plus a hot meal, and a roof over their heads at the Inn at the end of the road) for a day's work.
Suspiciously Silky Sidebar:  Several things strike me as odd about this little bit of the adventure. #1: The diversion to the countryside drags the PCs away from the investigation down on the docks. #2: The silks are specifically mentioned as being shipped by carriage from Nuln, which is located due West of Averhiem on the Aver river. #3: The intended recipient of this cargo (the merchant Adolphus Starke) owns a boat and doesn't live in Averhiem. #4: Cathay is East of the Empire.   As it turns out, everything is on the up-and-up, and none of this distracted or worried my players in the least.  The coincidental intersection of those four facts could easily have turned into a huge red herring. If any of my players had chosen to look at a map of the Warhammer world at the start of this session, they may have become mired in unwarranted suspicion of Weiss, Starke or von Kaufmann. I consider that a bullet dodged, and with that as context I guess I'm thankful they just thought Sir Curd Weiss had the hots for Lina instead.
The other two players engage in some shopping at the open-air market just across the street from where the meeting is taking place. Ninewise wants to buy a couple sets of clothes. She wants to be able to pose as silver or brass tier as the mood suits her. At first this stymies me, as there's no clothing entries on the general equipment matrix… but after a moment I realize there's a price stated clearly in the armor section, and I'm eventually able to reverse-engineer brass and silver tier versions of it.
Shopping System Sadness Sidebar: Shopping is never an exciting part of any adventure. It's positively boring for any player who's not currently involved in the process of adding beneficial new equipment to their character sheet. For the GM it's usually boring, but sometimes that's spiked with frustration or concern stemming from odd pricing decisions in the rulebooks or the game-changing nature of some high-end equipment.  It's the sort of thing that should be, whenever possible, handled off-camera. Compile a list (complete with prices from the books) between sessions or scenes, and hand it to the GM for a quick approval.
Unfortunately, Warhammer 3rd makes that off-camera expediency all but impossible. There's no simple equipment list. Buying anything other than a weapon involves looking up the category on a chart, comparing that chart to more detailed text descriptions on the next page, followed frequently by asking the GM to make a judgement call when that info turns out to be incomplete, after which the player makes two die rolls (one for availability and one for haggling) and depending on the second die roll you do some percentage multiplication. WTF!? It's very tempting to skip all that availability and haggling nonsense, but doing so would deprive the adventure of some of it's flavor. There's specific rules in the scenario notes for what sort of items are cheaper or more costly in this town, further modified by day of the week and what part of town you're shopping in. It's mildly cool and very flavorful, but also a big pain in the haversack.
The PCs meet up, and there's an info dump about the job, which they all agree to embark on today.

Rather than set out at once, there's a short delay so Hrulgar can deliver bad news to his friend Captain Marcus Baerfaust. Burgolt goes with him. A second awkward introduction happens. I keep trying to cue the players to introduce and vouch for the other PCs, but they never take the hint (this same thing happened in the next two sessions at least). I clearly need to be more bluntly out-of-character about it. Since Hrulgar doesn't vouch for Burgolt, the Captain is uneasy talking in front of a von Engler, and through that I inadvertently reinforce the PCs desire to always split the party. Oops!

Despite botching the introductions, this is still rather a bit easier access to Baerfaust than the adventure technically allows for, but it matches Hrulgar's bio nicely (because of the way he answered questions on the "Battle-Scarred" background card). So I don't really want to discourage it, but I'm really not prepared for another visit, and more importantly don't want to slow down our progress at all. I know there's a big fight happening in a later scene, and I need to make sure I have enough time for it. So I decide Baerfaust is about to head out of the palace on some duty, and can only speak to Hrulgar in passing, whilst in the stable.

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT: If you're playing this campaign at someone else's table, or think you might do so one day, skip the next paragraph entirely. At best it's full of spoilers, and at worst it may be a terrible red herring depending on what "behind the scenes" decisions your GM has made.

Hrulgar conveys the news about the bodies the found the day before. He mentions their state, disfigured as part of some sort of ritual sacrifice by mythical Skaven and/or your more run-of-the-mill evil witches, then dumped in acid. He also drops the bombshell that Baerfaust's nephew Ingo may be among the as-yet-unidentified dead. The captain has no time for sentimentality, he's been summoned to the von Tuchtenagen estate concerning a legal matter with the city guard, so will have to mourn later.  (This is largely name-dropping for later use. I do a lot of that. In this case, it won't come up again for several sessions.) It's also thematic reinforcement, further solidifying the notion that though technically in charge of the Averheim Garrison and City Watch, Baerfaust serves at the whims of various noble houses and is beholden to the whole lot of them at least until a new Elector-Count is chosen. I add one more detail before he mounts his horse. Baerfaust spoke further with Lt Arta Schaeffer about Ingo's last report before his disappearance. Schaeffer remembers that he asked her how to spell two words: "jade" and "scepter" and from the way he asked she inferred they were being used in the same sentence.

Meanwhile, Ninewise and Lina hang back at the market. Having done some clothes shopping, Ninewise now wants to buy a set of pauper's clothing for her sister the wizard. There may be times where Lina doesn't want to advertise her spellcasting credentials via her official robes. I remind them that the robes of her order, while marking her abilities for all to see, do at least provide some amount of legal protection from witch-hunters and others who might be superstitious or suspicious. They still pick up a change of outfit for Lina, just in case.

The group meets back up, and heads out on the road per their agreement with Curd Weiss. Along the way, they cross the path of an old Strigany (essentially Gypsy) pedlar. I flavor the heck out of his cart: goat-drawn modified wheel-barrow with a variety of cabinets more or less nailed on top of one another and covered with trinkets and junk, think I had a cat in a bird cage on top too. It was intentionally ridiculous. As they approach, he stops, opens up the cabinets, and starts shouting "rag-a-bo!" This is a traditional call of a "rag & bone man", a fellow who gathers up the cast-offs from noble houses (or where-ever junk is being discarded) to resell second-hand. He's in the adventure notes, but not in much detail.

There's three points to this encounter:

#1: When the PCs mention to him that wagons on this route have been hit by bandits, he has a minor clue to pass on. He can draw the PCs attention to the fact that further up the road there's a spot where wagon ruts and animal tracks leave the road. This is so that we don't have to rely on a lucky Observation check to advance the plot, and have an alternate method to convey the information. This isn't Gumshoe, after all, so I applaud the scenario designers for this touch.

#2: If the PCs capture and question the bandits, their initial ruse is to get off the hook is to claim they were hired by a Strigany crime boss. This is a pretty ridiculous red herring and easy enough for the PCs to settle, so i think it's just in the scenario notes to give a touch of verisimilitude and room to improvise. They don't waste any word count on what happens if the PCs buy this story and go murder the pedlar, for example. I'm kinda glad my players didn't take the bait.

#3: Aside from his (non-)participation in the plot, this minor encounter gave me an opportunity to redress a minor unfairness to Hrulgar, the Apprentice Runesmith character in my party. Runesmithing is a weird career. It lets you imbue magic items, which is potentially really powerful. However, it's also really expensive to do so, as you have to start with a superior-quality item. There's a lot of hurdles to jump through, and my player had made no secret of how annoying he found the process. I figured this traveling pedlar would allow me an opportunity to give him a leg up on the smithing of a single runic item, without any fear of it setting a precedent.  It's a one-of-a-kind item from a traveling merchant with an unreliable supply line.

So the merchant shows them his wares, and makes some small talk.  One out-of-place amulet amongst all the junk jewelry strikes Hrulgar's eye. It's a dwarven ancestor badge, the sort of thing that should never be allowed in hands of non-dwarves, and perfect rune-fodder. The merchant can't recall where he got it, and figures he's not going to a proper dwarf fortress for months, so this is his best opportunity to unload it. He states the price as 20 silver schillings. That's a heck of a steal by itself, but I was forgetting the detailed Haggling rules when I made up that number. One good die roll later, and the price is cut in half.  I've now met my quota of kindness for one session, time to plan the TPK.

How Much Is That Runic Amulet In The Sidebar?  The price I'd previously announced for a rune-ready superior quality amulet was 1 Gold at the market in town. That's a fairly large amount in Warhammer 3rd. It's 1/5th the maximum a PC can start with, and amounts to 10 day's pay for a typical mercenary or bodyguard. However, I have no idea if it was way too high or way too low. A hand weapon that's high-enough quality to accept a rune would cost 2.5 Gold, but it's also a usable weapon that has a bonus-die on attacks. On the other hand, a "superior quality" sword doesn't imply that it's all fancied up with gold filigree and inset gems, unlike a "superior" piece of jewelry. There is a necklace available as treasure later in the adventure - but it's listed value is not particularly useful in this regards because the price given is for if you fence or pawn it, and we aren't clearly told whether or not it's "superior". From a gamist perspective, 1 Gold seems overpriced for a career features that also takes XP, time, and a workshop. But from a simulationist perspective, a Gold feels way too cheap. Months later, I'm still wrestling with this.

The PCs find the spot where multiple carriages and animals left the road and headed into the woods. They head down the trail, mostly unconcerned about stealth because they assume that the carts are just plain gone. Along the way, they find a broken end of a small barrel, sitting in a pile of dark grey sludge. The barrel probably fell off a wagon or carriage as it passed through the forest trail. The sludge turns out to be gunpowder, ruined from exposure the driving Averland rain.

I mention there's some smoke over the trees, like a campfire in some distant clearing. The PCs make note of it, and continue ahead. The assumption, I would later learn, is that since it's been several days since the carriage failed to arrive in Averheim, there's no chance of the bandits (if any) being still on-site. If there's anyone camping in the area, they are at most witnesses, not suspects.  This is actually a pretty clever deduction, but not what the scenario author had in mind at all. As it turns out, the campers are not only brigands, but also mutants.

Depending on how much investigation your group decides to do, this fight could be happening a couple sessions earlier than it did for us, so the PCs might have had 2 or 3 fewer advances under their belts. I'd read on the forums that this fight is mostly a cakewalk.  It's balanced for a party of 3 PCs (as that's how many the main box set supports) with randomly-drawn careers. My 4 PCs include a pistolier, a fire mage, and a dwarf who is technically a merchant but built to maximize melee effectiveness.  The one "non-combatant" in our group has several buff spells and a smidge of healing. Without some tinkering, this fight would probably last just 1 round and fail to do any damage to the players. Where's the fun in that?

The encounter as described in the scenario is 5 mutants, 1 of which is already badly wounded and 3 of which are drunk.  Multiple GMs before me had complained about it being underwhelming. The PCs are just about guaranteed to catch them unawares. In addition, these so-called mutants don't actually have mutant stats as-written. They don't even have actual mutation cards, just descriptions.  They use "townsfolk" stats, so their attacks are little weaker than "real" mutants, and they don't cause Fear. This is justified because their mutations are "mostly cosmetic". That strikes me as ridiculous. It would be dubious even if I hadn't been warned that the fight had been a push-over at other tables. Citizens of the Empire have a great fear and hatred for anyone different than themselves. If I say these mutants aren't very scary because they only have feathers and donkey ears, that would set a precedent. Most of the mutations in the mutation deck are "cosmetic", but the PCs will still be hunted outcasts if they accumulate a large number corruption points. Corruption and mutation are supposed to be serious dangers, and treating them so lightly really undermines this aspect of the setting. An upgrade was clearly in order.

For starters, I restored them all to actual Mutant stats. The actual Characteristic increase was very minor, but it did give them an extra point of Soak and Fear 1. In practice, the Fear turned out to be pretty trivial as well, as most starting PCs have something like a 70% chance to pass a Fear 1 test, and the consequences of failure are pretty minor for a PC. Then I gave each NPC an actual honest-to-tzeentchness mutation card, in some cases 2. As best as possible I tried to match up the cards to the descriptions of the mutants in the scenario. So Fritz' waddle becomes the (useless) Grotesque Features card, but Gerta's warty skin actually boosts her Soak. I also reduced the number of wounds on the already-injured mutant so he couldn't accidentally run himself to death just getting into melee.

To that I added the Chaos monster-group sheet. I knew not to expect the Eye of the Gods or Chaotic Fury tracks to actually trigger in a battle this short, but it came with juicy Tactic Talent slots. I filled them with Exploit Weakness and Push It Till You Drop. This boosted their damage and combat effectiveness, but in a way I could easily fine-tune on the fly. If the PCs were winning, I'd have the mutants gang up, and trigger both tactics. If the PCs were having problems, I could easily make tactical decisions that would render either or both tactics powerless. Rather than rely on the boring old Basic Actions, I gave them Brutal Assault, Rampaging Mutation, and Revel in Corruption. Again, this gave me a lot of control over the pacing and threat level of the battle.

Towards that end it worked really well, but there was still some unexpected general weirdness to the fight.  Once the PCs and Mutants saw each other, we rolled initiative. I based this on Agility, but the first two PCs to act actually took Social actions, trying to Influence the mutants. I wasn't about to let them talk their way out of a fight with mutants entirely, but I did let this convince the two sober mutants to abandon their drunken compatriots and flee. This worked out okay in retrospect, but at the time it meant the fight started slowly and no one quite got what they wanted out of the scene.

Eventually a bonafide melee broke out. 3 out of 4 characters were heavily wounded by the end of the fight. The remaining 3 drunken mutants provided plenty of challenge, and one of them got to unleash the Rampaging Mutation and have his arm melt off while attacking. It was a crazy hard fight. I suspect I may have over-compensated for the reported weakness of the battle, but it's hard to say for certain. Ninewise stayed out of the fight entirely which meant the others had to pick up some slack, and Lina got really screwed by the miscast deck.

Lina had been standing in the woods, flinging attack spells to support Hrulgar and Burgolt who were being pounded on by the mutants. Lina blasted a target (who coincidentally has the Brightly-Colored mutation) with a arching bolt of fire… and scored two chaos stars in the process. So we flip over a miscast card. For 1 chaos star, it says an item in the casters possession gets stained a bright color. So I narrate that her fire strikes the mutant and sets him ablaze, but the flames turn the same green hue as his mutated skin and then arc back into the woods to discolor Ninewise's robe. The red trim turns green on one side of her robe. With his dying words the mutant cries out to his unholy god "Thank you, Lord Tzeentch, Changer of Ways! Thank you for blessing me with your hellfire!"

Then I flipped over the next miscast card to resolve the remaining chaos star. Wow. The new card was "Arcing Magic." It fit the visual theme we'd just described, but it was also the worst possible single-star result in the deck for an attack spell. It makes your same spell hit a second, unwanted, target for full effect. Not too bad if you're doing a buff or a heal, but potentially PC-killing on a major attack like this. So, rather than arc again and possibly drop a PC whose already been getting smashed in melee, I just had the damage pile onto Lina.  It was a huge stack of wounds, including 1 critical… and wouldn't you know it, she gets one of the Serious Wound cards. "Bum Knee," which is not the best thematic fit to being blasted by magic fire, but I let it ride. So it's a lingering injury that will stick around for a very long time. Still technically better than "1 Chaos Star: A PC dies", but not by much. This leaves a sinking feeling in my stomach about the critical wound and miscast systems.

Eventually the drunk mutants go down, but by then the sober ones are long gone. Burgolt might have been able to chase them down on horseback, but he was stabbed multiple times in the fight so they decide not to pursue.

With the action out of the way, the PCs can search the bandit camp. Scattered amongst the tents are various unappetizing debris that you might expect from a mutant camp, including some "meat" of dubious origin (probably the missing coachmen and roadwardens) and a bunch of poorly-maintained hand weapons.
Since the site has been contaminated for a while, I have the PCs each make a Corruption check. Usually these sorts of tests are made for contact with really dangerous substances or powerful magic, not simply mutant cooties. As a result, the official minimum difficulty is 2 purple dice. That seemed a bit out-of-line with the risk here, so I had them roll vs only 1 purple, and I threw in a bonus white die for the recent cleansing rain. The dice continued to be unkind to the PCs though, just as they had through the fight. Both Lina and Ninewise picked up 1 corruption point each. It's not a huge deal yet, but it could cause trouble down the road.

Checking the camp further, they find there's only one carriage here, but  there are signs that more had been parked here previously. There's a big spot where a number of barrels were stacked for several days. Now they are gone, leaving only an impression in the trampled grass to mark where they'd sat. If you're thinking the barrels were full of gunpowder just like the broken ones the PCs found on the way here, you're correct. "Chemicals for industrial processes," indeed. The bottles of wine are here as well, but more than half of them have been emptied. The silks have been rifled through, but are mostly okay except for one or two used to clean up mutant bodily functions. We retroactively rule that that particular discovery is how Ninewise picked up her corruption point. Eww.

The next Coaching Inn is just a mile or two down the road, so they're able to go fetch some porters, horses, and wagons to gather up anything that belongs to Graf von Kaufman or his Red Arrow Coaching Company. The Inn is just a short distance from a Shallyan hospice and leper colony, so the PCs can get first-aid. It's not quite enough to heal them all completely, but it's better than nothing. They have dinner and a couple Inn rooms courtesy of the letter Curd Weiss gave them.

End of Session 5. End of Day 4.
Party Tension is at 9. I don't remember why it shot up 3 points this session, but between 2 awkward meetings and a mutant battle, that seems reasonable.
Criminal Empire: Agenda remains at 6, and Stability at 7.
Corruption: Lina has 2, Ninewise has 1.
Wounds: Lina and Burgolt each had a couple left over the next morning. Lina has a "Bum Knee" that will be really hard to recover from entirely, but at least it's effects will rarely trigger.

The Dice Are Always Greener On The Other Side Of The Delay Icon

A friend of mine recently wrote a couple of excellent statistical analysis articles about the dice in Warhammer FRP 3rd Ed. If you play or GM Warhammer Fantasy RolePlay, and are at all curious about the math going on behind the dice and the action cards, you'll definitely want to check out his articles.
  • The Correlation Effect - about the interdependence of the success/failure and boon/bane axis of the Warhammer dice.
  • Reckless Or More - about how stance modifies success and damage in the game.
His articles have triggered some discussion amongst our group about the mechanics, and specifically how the green and red dice stack up (and, by extension, the corresponding sides of the action cards).

Figuring out how aggressively to apply the results of the Delay icon on the green die is a surprisingly large part of the learning curve for a WFRP GM. In yesterday's session, I did it all wrong, and learned a lot from my errors. I was way too nice with the Delay icons, and won't be doing that again. 

Green (Conservative) and Red (Reckless) Dice need to be roughly equal, as do the Green and Red sides of the cards. Character decisions should be rewarded, so it's it's okay if there's sometimes a better stance depending on the situation or card combo, but no single situation or combo should be allowed to dominate play. Some cards will be better on a specific side, and that's okay, but it shouldn't be "green is always better" or vice-versa. It's vital that a PC be able to act carefully or recklessly to meet the needs of drama and characterization without it completely screwing their character every single time. If not, then what's the point of offering this extra mechanical fiddliness? Either decision needs to be valid in the majority of circumstances... but not every circumstance, or else the decision becomes meaningless. That is a tricky path to walk.

Delay icons need to be nastier than Exertion symbols. The other aspects (and sides) of the green die are more reliable than the red, so the green Delay should be slightly worse to compensate for that. The Delay is not just equivalent to the Exertion, it also has to compensate for the increased risk of Boons. This takes some thought and effort on the GM's part. The maximum result of a Delay symbol is locking you out of one action for the rest of the fight. The maximum result of a Exertion icon is locking you out of all your actions for the rest of the fight,  thereby making you extremely vulnerable, and making the player sit bored and frustrated while everyone else gets to play without them. Therefore, if you want to make them balanced, you need to make sure the minimum effect of the Delay is more dire than the minimum effect of an Exertion.

Exertion and Delay should be complimentary opposites, not equals. A character can generally laugh off rolling an Exertion teardrop on their first roll or two of a scene, but that same roll in round 3 or 4 of a fight is a noteworthy source of danger. For a long time, I thought the Delay hourglass should roughly follow that same pattern, to keep them balanced. Problem is, that doesn't really work. Penalties to recharge become less (not more) important late in a fight, because the fights are so short that you won't be reusing that action again even without the Delay. Penalties to initiative have a similar curve, and are really only a big penalty if applied early. So rather than building up to a crescendo like Exertion, the Delay icon needs to hit hard right out of the gate.

That said, Delay icons should never be applied to add recharge tokens to Active Defense cards. To a GM it's very tempting to put the tokens on Dodge or Parry, because it's a way to give a real but relatively modest penalty to a player. It's easy to justify to yourself because all you're doing is removing one or two black dice from one or two NPC rolls. The problem with that comes when you think about what the green dice represent. Green means I'm being careful and conservative, intentionally playing it safe and not taking risks. Does it really make sense that the consequences of that caution be a temporary weakening of my defenses? Not really.

With all those thoughts bouncing around in my head, my plan next session is to make Delay a much bigger deal than it was yesterday. I'll let you know how well it works.