Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Common People Revisited

EDIT/WARNING: Further playtesting discovered a critical problem with the 4th card in this post. I hope to get it fixed and updated soon, but for now I'd recommend holding off on downloading or playing these.

EDIT #2: One of my pets died this morning, and my wife has a surgery consultation tomorrow for what will likely be her fourth surgery this year. So, um, it's probably going to be quite a while before I get around to fixing the broken card below. Don't hold your breath - and don't try playing it, the card is really remarkably awful.

Yet another Myth boardgame post.

Several weeks ago, I converted the Myth Story Quest "Common People" into a series of Chapter Quests. Link. Further playtesting since then has revealed some rough areas, so I've taken another stab at it. (For the record: I still have no fuzzy clue why this Story is called Common People.)

For starters, I've revised the flavor-text of every card. There's two goals here.
  1. To make it less likely that arbitrary Tile placement will contradict the text and break immersion. You place Tiles before you draw Quests, so sometimes with the official cards you end up with very strange disconnects. I'm trying hard to avoid that.
  2. To fit the flavor text to the "tavern story" format where, as Myth's original pitches during the Kickstarter explained, the stories are being told after the fact by a bunch of adventurers bragging and reminiscing in a bar.
This means that the flavor text from the original rulebook Story entries has been entirely abandoned in favor of more earthy text. This is a parallel story, or a retelling or reboot if you will. Some folks will probably hate that (and truth be told I'll kind of miss the florid language of the original) but while that purple prose contributed mood, it was often at odds with other setting material and the physical components of the game.  I've made it all a little more consistently beer-and-pretzels, sitting around blowing off steam with your buddies... as that's really what the game is all about.

Beyond those flavorful rewrites, each card has undergone mechanical revisions, which I'll address individually as we look at each card.

Rosy-Fingered Dawn features essentially the same mechanics as my previous version of the same card. I'm a little more precise about what you do with the unlocked Quest Chain, and threw in a small AP penalty for failure.

 Originally there were three near-identical chapters at the Start of this Quest. Playtesting revealed that if you failed the first one, you might be inclined to populate the 2nd and 3rd Tiles very lightly and then auto-succeed at them without much of a challenge. This was less than exciting, and probably "broken", so I took it into consideration when I revised the card.

Smoky Horizon now adds a Captain, so that even if you chose a small Tile and put the minimum possible content on it, there'd still be some sort of guaranteed speed-bump.
100 Fires was revised entirely (for the above reason). Instead of being just like the previous two, I pushed the narrative. You've arrived at the edge of the enemy army, and need to get around with without raising the alarm. Instead of being yet a another round of do things fast, I decided it was time for do things meekly.  If your Threat gets to 8 or higher, the monsters call out for reinforcements from the rest of their nearby camp.

In the process, I cut out the ability to fail the Quest (other than by TPK). You can still fail the two steps before it, reducing Treasure Bag rewards. The official rulebook version has a pass/fail goal, but doesn't give you any directives about what happens if you fail. Having to do-over an entire Act, or completing multiple Tiles with no reward whatsoever seemed less than ideal. This strikes me as a workable compromise.

My previous take on Burning Bridges and Fallen Guard were pretty faithful to the original, except with two major oversights: The minimum number of Tiles was shorter than in the Story, and I didn't include the "No Lairs" clause. I'd hoped those two changes would balance each other out, but alas, they did not. If you chose small Tiles that naturally lacked Lairs,  it was all too fast and easy. If you chose larger Tiles that mandated Lairs, you'd end up bogged down as an infinite stream of Hunting Packs flanked you, and a TPK would result. It was tricky finding the middle ground that lead to a satisfying experience, so major revisions were in order.

It may still need further revising, which I'll see when it gets another playtest later this week. I'm confident this version is now properly balanced, Mainly I'm just worried that the wording is too clunky, and I'm wondering if the "both a Chapter and an Act Quest" clause is unnecessary.

The second Act of the rulebook Story is pretty punishing. If you can't get the entire party out in a single HC, it's unclear what happens to the last character. 1 Hero vs infinite monsters seems pretty dreadful, but the Story version doesn't really say what happens if that last Hero dies. Does the whole group fail?

Since character resurrection is fairly cheap within the system/setting, I decided it's all okay as long as someone gets inside the gates. Losing a Hero or two reduces your rewards ("each living Hero may draw") but doesn't stop the narrative in its tracks or make you replay the entire Act.
Let me just start by saying the original version in the rulebook for Act 3 of this Story is a mess.  My previous Chapter version plugged one or two of the plot holes, but there was still a lot of interpretation and potential confusion. Even if I could find official answers to all the holes in the official version, I don't think I could actually fit all the info needed on a single card (afterall, Mercs/Megacon didn't manage to fit all the needed information on 1/3 of a page). So I had to improvise a little. The result is clearly NOT what the Mercs crew had in mind exactly, but it worked rather well in playtest the other day.

It took us 2 & 1/2 play sessions to get through this entire quest chain in 2-player (though Chapters 2 & 3 were a little different at that point so doing it again it might take 3 full sessions). That suggests that it's a little bit shorter or easier than the official version. I'm not particularly alarmed by any of that, as I feel character progression happens a little too slowly in the core rules.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Non-Standard Tiles In Myth

I've played enough Myth that the limited selection of Tiles is starting to get a little boring, so I created a solution (see below). True, this problem will be mostly solved when Wave 2 arrives (IIRC, I have another 16 Tiles coming to compliment the 10 that were in the boxed set) but I really wanted a solution that isn't literally waiting on a slow boat from China.

(For the record: I haven't actually played all the 6x12 combinations yet, but just about every other legal set-up has been done to death, and it's beginning to feel like Yardu isn't so much evil as just overly fond of large orange rugs.)

Over at BGG, miflhanc posted a proposal for using D&D (or other) tiles with Myth. He had tile population legends for 2x2, 2x4, 4x4, 4x8, 8x8 and 9x12 tiles. Sadly, many of the most interesting tiles in my D&D collection were 5x8, 5x10, or some other configuration he didn't cover. Adding those (and 5x16, 10x10, and other double-tile permutations) to his framework was going to be a mess, resulting in an overly complicated menu of options that threatened to slow the game to a crawl with analysis paralysis...  (as if I don't have enough trouble with that already.)

So instead, I reinvented the wheel. Just two new Tile categories to cover the entire gamut of possible tilings and sizes, plus a third option for giving any Tile a small boost.

Behold: The Wheel!

Small Custom is sort of like the core game's 6x6, but with smaller overall rewards (7.7 less gold on average). I mandated a Lair, because frankly the game is rarely challenging if there's neither a Lair nor a Trap on the Tile. Didn't want to include a Trap because then there'd be all the trouble of trying to adapt the existing Trap diagrams to oddly-shaped and -sized Tiles. This could be a single tile, or depending on what gaming resources you have at your disposal it could be a combination of smaller tiles arranged together. Play this when the official Tiles have become too over-used, or if you want a Merchant but don't necessarily need the huge cash spike that comes from the official 6x6.

Large Custom is modeled after the 12x24, but scaled down significantly so there's a playable amount of lairs and only a Gold Hoard not a Treasure Hoard. Miniboss is optional. The payout is 1 Treasure more than the 6x12, but you'll have to go elsewhere for a Merchant. This is almost always going to be (at least) a double-tile, as few sets of gaming tiles include any single piece more than a foot in length. Use it if you want to make some sprawling maze of tile components, or if you want a big finale to a sessions that's a little more customizable than the official 12x24.

Add-On is for use when If you're looking to just adjust the shape of a layout or spike the difficulty of a Tile by a tiny bit. Attach one or more smaller (2x2, 2x3, 2x4, etc) tiles to an existing Tile, along with an accompanying Hunting Pack and 2 extra Gold when the combined Tile is Cleared. I decided I liked +2 Gold better than adjusting the Treasure count, as it better represented the very small climb in extra difficulty that a Hunting Pack represented, and seemed less likely to trigger cheesy min-maxing in the pursuit of loot. It's mainly meant for you to add-on to any Myth tile, but if you wanted to invoke it when laying out a Small or Large Custom build that's okay too.

There is one obvious downside to all this customization, which I alluded to before: Once you've opened the can of worms of using non-standard tiles and possibly laying out more than 1 or 2 tiles to make a Tile, it can slow down the game a bit. Hunting through a box of random D&D tiles for the components to make an awesome complicated room can be fun in itself, but can disrupt the flow of the game. My best advice there is to do some minor pre-game prep work, such as gathering small numbers of similarly-themed tiles into gallon ziplocks so you've got a smaller amount to think about when designing any given room configuration.

Also, in case it's not obvious: if your custom non-Myth Tile layout matches the size and shape of any of the official Myth Tiles (4x6, 6x6, 4x12, 6x12, 12x12 or 12x24) you have the option of using the same stats as the Myth Tile of the same size and shape, instead of calling it a Small Custom. For that matter, the line between Small and Large could be made blurrier without breaking anything. If you had 10x10 or 8x12 space and ran it as a Large Custom, it wouldn't break anything.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

4 Myth Chapter Quests

Here's four more Chapter Quest Cards I made for Myth.

"Caravan Besieged" adds an objective for the Heroes to try to accomplish on the Tile: protect a number of NPCs from monster attack.

Though it won't come up often, I'm really pleased with the failure consequences. The Merchant deck in Myth has two colors of cards in it, and while the blue cards have generally better goods for sale,  nothing in the game ever references it mechanically. It's just unused design space, so this is my first foray into it.

Tying the number of merchants to the number of hunting packs and lairs will hopefully encourage players to push their luck a little and try out a bigger fight than they otherwise would be comfortable with.

"Earthquake!" is very straightforward and front-loaded. There's a couple die rolls at the start of the Tile that might inflict the Prone condition on some Heroes or Monsters. I kept the rewards very minimal, because with a small party, the earthquake itself is likely to be a net positive. (If I've done my math right, with 2 Heroes in play, there's an expected average result of 1.2 Heroes Prone, and 2.2 monsters Prone.)  Even if you have a bad roll, you can stand the whole party back up if you simply Refresh twice (twice because whoever entered the Tile first won't have skipped an entire Hero Cycle so they won't stand up) without playing any cards. To complicate that decision, I added a one-time 2 AP penalty: if you want the whole party to stand up before the monsters do, you'll have to Loiter.

Many Myth playgroups have house-ruled away the Loitering penalty/rule. If your table has instituted such a house-rule, I recommend changing the 2 AP penalty on "Earthquake!" to a 4 AP penalty to compensate. You'll still almost always all get to stand up before the monsters, but will at least have fewer actions before the monsters start moving.

"Opening Volley" is also a straight-forward modifier or 'fire-and-forget' development, more than an actual "Quest". There's nothing special for the Heroes to do, except suffer through a bunch of extra ranged attacks at the start of the Tile. It will mostly likely really punish the brave soul who stepped onto the new Tile first. So it's kind of like the Earthquake, except with a real chance of killing an overly bold character if their vitality was low and they had no defensive interrupts. As a result, the rewards are a little better on this card.

I avoided describing exactly what sort of range weapon the monsters are using, since Crawlers spit venom and other monster types would be more likely to use bows, javelins, or rocks. I did however give the Archer an extra minor reward so there's no "a whole bunch of orcs just shot at me, and I still can't find any arrows!?" comments at the game.

"Uphill Battle" is an ongoing situation that will definitely complicate gameplay on the Tile, and hopefully force some interesting tactical decisions, as targets may slide out of position when you Refresh, and the loot drops may all vanish before the tile is clear. It was a lot of words to cram onto the card, and further complicated because the game's glossary doesn't really differentiate between object types. Really, I'd love for treasure, boulder tokens, and wall tokens to all have their own movement rules for this card, but there's just no good way to shoehorn that all into the available space. What I settled on is a bit of a compromise and will require further playtesting, but should work reasonably well.

Hopefully those four new Chapters will help extend the game by another session or so while we all wait patiently for Wave 2 of Myth to finally ship out. I've seen a few people on the various fora say that they're starting to run out of Quests already.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Munchkin Opposition

What is the point of the Opposed Check mechanic in Warhammer 3rd?  I only recently figured out the answer to that question, and until I did so, I hated the mechanic. Now, I realize it's kinda awesome and absolutely vital to the health of the game.

The point of that rule is certainly _not_ to provide results where both parties' stats have equal weight. Not by a long shot. Blue dice and purple dice just don't have anywhere near mirrored results, and really there is no accurate conversion ratio (because Chaos Stars complicate all the math). Even if they did equate better, the initiating participant in the challenge would still have the advantage of Green, Red, or Yellow dice, none of which are available to the opposing participant in the roll. The defender's stance makes no difference, and the defender's skills are devalued in comparison to the aggressors.

So there must be some other reason for using the opposed mechanic.

Having run a lot of math (see below), I've come to a likely answer to the above question. The answer is interesting, and it's a shame that the designers over at FFG never discussed it in something akin to one of those "Behind the Curtain" sidebars you sometimes see in D&D books. Why does the Opposed Check mechanic exist, and work the way it does? For the singular purpose of preserving character niche for those who didn't take a 2 in Fellowship and Intelligence.  It's main point is to ensure that the wacky non-combat careers in Warhammer (such as Agitator, Courtier or Scribe) actually have a relevant specialty that isn't easily encroached upon by the brute-force combat types just throwing 2 XP at a non-career skill.  Tangential to this, the Opposed Checks ensure that those who optimized their stats actually pay some trade-off for those 5 or 6 blue dice they're getting in their best areas -- there are some things they just can't do at all.

To elaborate: Warhammer 3rd is a game where characters generally begin with a high degree of competence. Starting characters can readily get above a 90% success rate from their best skills and actions. Even if something is well outside your focus, you've still almost always got a better than 50% chance of success for a standard roll.

There's two areas where this high success rate isn't true:
  • one is Opposed checks by characters with a low stat,
  • the other is arbitrarily high difficulty ratings used on plot-relevant checks specifically called out in published adventures. 

The later exist as speed-bumps to prevent PCs from whistling through a scenario due to dumb luck in a way that's not dramatically satisfying. If the PC does manage to short-circuit drama by grasping at straws / thinking outside the box / spamming some random skill at every NPC, the drama that was lost by short-cutting the plot is (hopefully) replaced by the thrill of having beat a high-difficulty (often 4 Purple) check.

The former, those Opposed checks when one side or the other has a 2 in the relevant stat, is there only to make sure that if you put a 2 in your Fellowship or Intelligence you will never succeed at a default roll of that stat. It does this to protect the character niche for those who did invest in Fellowship or Intelligence.  Tangential to this it also makes the person with the 2's occassionally and infrequently get brutally pwned by NPCs with high stats. Said pwnage is just the icing on the cake, it's not the main point of the opposed checks. The game already puts high success rates on the high-stat (N)PCs and if providing PC vulnerability was your only goal you'd solve it with something less like opposed checks and more like the elegant 1-purple of vs Target Defense rolls. There's easier ways to empower GM's manhandling of PCs, but there's not easier ways to protect character niche.

That's probably a good point to segue into all that math I alluded to. After I broke down the success-rate percentages of the official opposed check rule and the most common house-rule to replace it (many GM's use purple dice = opposed stat minus 2), I got a comment from one of my players that perhaps the problem with those numbers was due to the minus two, and the way it zero'd out the difficulties at the low end. If I did 1/2 or 1/3 the stat as purple dice, and any remainder as blacks, maybe that would fit a more reasonable curve. So a 5 in the opposed stat would always produce either 2 purple and a black, or 1 purple and 2 black depending on which variant I used, and a 1 in the opposed stat would always be a single black die no matter how high or low the aggressors stat was. That was actually pretty close to a house-rule I actually used in my first couple one shots, but had eventually dropped because I wanted to try a campaign with a minimum of house-rules to see how the game ran by the books.

Anyhow, I ran a bunch more numbers, and here (after a weird gap that blogger insists on inserting before all tables) are the results:

Opposed Stats original success rate Purple = Stat -2 Purple = Stat / 2, Remainder = Black Purple = Stat /3, Remainder = Black 1 Purple
2 opposed by 1 44% 75% 58% 58%44%
2 opposed by 2 25% 75% 44% 44%44%
2 opposed by 3 14% 44% 33% 44%44%
2 opposed by 4 8% 25% 25% 33%44%
2 opposed by 5 8% 14% 19% 25%44%
2 opposed by 6 8% 8% 14% 25%44%
2 opposed by 7 8% 4% 10% 19%44%
3 opposed by 1 88% 88% 75% 75%60%
3 opposed by 2 59% 88% 59% 63%60%
3 opposed by 3 38% 59% 49% 59%60%
3 opposed by 4 24% 38% 38% 49%60%
3 opposed by 5 24% 24% 31% 40%60%
3 opposed by 6 14% 14% 24% 39%60%
3 opposed by 7 14% 9% 19% 31%60%
4 opposed by 1 94% 94% 85% 85%72%
4 opposed by 2 72% 94% 72% 76%72%
4 opposed by 3 72% 72% 63% 72%72%
4 opposed by 4 51% 51% 51% 63%72%
4 opposed by 5 37% 37% 43% 53%72%
4 opposed by 6 37% 23% 37% 51%72%
4 opposed by 7 37% 14% 29% 43%72%
5 opposed by 1 97% 97% 92% 92%81%
5 opposed by 2 97% 97% 81% 85%81%
5 opposed by 3 81% 81% 73% 81%81%
5 opposed by 4 81% 63% 63% 73%81%
5 opposed by 5 63% 46% 55% 65%81%
5 opposed by 6 46% 32% 46% 63%81%
5 opposed by 7 46% 21% 39% 55%81%
6 opposed by 1 98% 98% 95% 95%88%
6 opposed by 2 98% 98% 88% 91%88%
6 opposed by 3 88% 88% 82% 88%88%
6 opposed by 4 88% 72% 72% 82%88%
6 opposed by 5 88% 56% 65% 75%88%
6 opposed by 6 72% 42% 56% 73%88%
6 opposed by 7 56% 30% 49% 66%88%

See how every variant I tried* resulted in far more favorable numbers for those with a 2 in the relevant stat? It's a feature, not a bug. It was as if the designers had specifically chosen the official method just to screw with people who had 2's.  It's not monsters they're trying to hamstring, as a quick glance through the NPC stats and PC's Action cards will show you that even the most dim-witted beast has Willpower enough to resist any opposed check the PCs want to throw at them (it's almost always easier to stab a monster than to intimidate or charm it). The only rolls that these opposed mechanics specifically penalize are rolls only PCs ever make: haggling checks, all-or-nothing improvised social rolls, and intution checks to determine NPC motive. PCs with high stats are (as expected) very good at them, but PCs with low stats are terribly handicapped (far more so than a low-strength character swinging a sword).

* = (EDIT: running some more numbers, I just stumbled across a version that probably would work. More about that in a future blogging, as adding it here now would further bloat an already unreasonably-long post.)

Every character in the game needs a decent (at least a 3, and really it should be a 4) Toughness and Willpower, or else they'll spend most of the campaign carrying around a dangerous number of critical wounds and insanities, and slump over at the first sign of Fatigue or Stress. 2's in either of those stats will kill you. You also need either a high Strength, or a high Agility, to power your attacks. Wizards can get away with a high Intelligence + Willpower, and (at least some varieties of) priests can get away with a high Fellowship + Willpower. Between Strength and Agility, whichever of those stats you don't focus on, the other can be dropped down to a 2 with almost no associated downside or penalty. Likewise, each party needs a single character good at Fellowship, and a single character good at Intelligence, and everyone else could effectively dump those stats down to a 2 as well.

The opposed checks mechanic exists only to make that sort of min-maxing dangerous, and to reward the one person per party that decided to invest in the stats everybody else is ignoring. Opposed checks generate unfair results that double-dip on the stats and penalize those with 2's and 3's. Because the game fails to ever discuss the logic behind this, it strikes most readers as a bug. The moment you realize that Hans the shy dockworker can't ever pull a fast one on his coworkers, but Prof. Moriarty can always pass a Guile check vs Sherlock Holmes, you feel like you've just found a shocking loophole that the designers somehow missed. You didn't. That the system works like that was actually the entire point of their design.

There's one thing I'll say about FFG's crew: somebody over there (probably Jay Little) really knows their math. Words aren't always their strong suite, but numbers clearly are. The stance dice, and their complex interactions with the two sides of the action cards, are absolutely brilliant. There is a lot of very complicated math going on behind the scenes all throughout this game system, and so when I see something where the obfuscated math does something very pointed and unusual, I can only assume that it was put there for a reason.

As it turns out, if opposed checks it didn't work like that, there would be no downside to having a 2 in Fellowship. The game has such low difficulties across the board (outside of a low-stat Opposed check) that anyone can try their hand at any non-opposed check. If you're using the default difficulties for non-opposed checks (which is usually around 1 purple), anyone can reasonably do anything. "I absolutely suck at this" means I've only got a 62% chance of success. Unless it's an opposed check, that is.

While the game makes some nods towards Social encounters and progress trackers moved by "Influence the Target", the obvious truth is that most social situations likely to come up in play will be solved by a single roll of a single social skill. GM's might like the idea of building intricate social encounters, but it's a lot of work to do so, and is not an easy thing to improvise and still make it fun. The game is rather light in concrete examples of it in action, and off the top of my head I can't think of a single published adventure that has a really good one at it's core. If there is a good example, it's probably in the adventure from Lure of Power, but that came out very late in the game's development cycle.

This is Warhammer. The game has several-decades of reputation as the game where your party includes the dregs of the Empire. The party is more likely to be a ratcatcher, a blacksmith and a coachman than it is to be a knight, a wizard and a healer. That's a vital part of the setting and product identity, and FFG wasn't about to eliminate it entirely (even though they were interesting in making the game more cinematic and heroic than the previous editions). Part of the fun is being the unlikeliest of heroes. The spoiled nobleman fop, the illiterate peasant, or the malpracticing barber-surgeon that is thrust into the deep end and has to make do. Someone was going to draw those careers, and feel compelled to invest in non-combat stats just to be true to the character.

It's not fun for those players if everyone else (especially those lucky few who drew legitimate warrior careers) can sink those same points into killing things faster, and then still get by when forced to roll their one non-combat check of the session (because the difficulties are always low and success means the puzzle or social encounter is over). To make those colorful non-combatant careers worth playing at all, it was necessary to make 2s in non-combat skills suck.

The lengths the developers went to in the attempt to make these wackier careers worth playing is actually kinda cool and commendable. A vague framework of a social encounter system that takes a lot of GM prep time? That's to give the nobleman or agitator a chance to shine, and if you don't have one at the table the GM can skip it in favor of a single die roll. Obnoxious rarity and haggling system that relies on too many opposed checks? That's so merchants and conmen have an area where they feel needed, and if you lack that sort of character you can handwave it. Byzantine healing rules that involve a million die rolls? That's so barber-surgeons and physicians can be vital to the party, but if you don't have one, a liberal dose of GM fiat will whisk it all away.  All the clunkiest, most annoying parts of the rules exist just to make players of certain careers feel good. The only problem with all this is that FFG is so tight-lipped about design philosophy, they never actually say "skip this if you don't have a character at the table who cares about it."

Maybe I'm wrong and they don't intend you to skip them -- it could be that they expect high PC mortality rates to make all those careers relevant eventually -- but we'll never know because FFG never explains their motives or decisions.

Arcane Afterthought: Wizards and Priests sort of break this dynamic I was just raving about. They both use a non-combat stat as a combat stat, and so get a large number of spotlight moments both in and out of battle from that single investment. The game tries to compensate for this by making 1st rank spells and blessings weaker than default actions, so they don't come into power until late in the campaign. The game also makes them vulnerable to a bad channel/curry roll, so they have to invest in a second stat (Willpower) to fuel their effects. Intelligence has the most skills, so Wizards in particular are also subject to nasty miscasts (there are also thematic reasons for this, but that's beside the point) and minor restrictions on armor. Priests avoid those downsides, but require extra XP investment to unlock their "magical" abilities in the first place, so they trail behind wizards in the early game (at a time when wizards themselves trail briefly behind others in combat at least). None of which really manages to bring wizards or priests back in line with the other characters in a long campaign -- any Wizard (and any Priest of Rank 2 or higher) has tons more options and spotlight moments than a similar-rank scholar or merchant.

Honestly, the biggest thing keeping this in "balance" there is the low frequency of these character types. To be a wizard or priest, you have to get that one particular career card as one of your three random draws from the pile of 50 basic careers (and not have anything of greater personal interest on the other two cards). If none of the players get a lucky draw on day 1, it's a non-issue. If you have every expansion and follow the character creation rules as written, there's a less than 25% chance of even having an apprentice wizard in a 4-player campaign.

Obviously this mitigating factor goes out the window if the GM lets players pick any starting career instead of drawing randomly, but even then it's a least partially mitigated by the lesser chance of anyone playing the random non-heroic careers who get eclipsed early on by Priests and Wizards. Even in these circumstances, a min-maxed caster will eventually grow to be better than everyone else at nearly everything, but you'll get 20-30 sessions of balanced play before that happens.

So again, perhaps the designers just figured the game's high lethality and grimdark grittiness would prevent characters ever living long enough for that to be an issue.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Opposed to Proposed Opposed

There's a fairly common house-rule for "Opposed Checks" in Warhammer FRP 3rd that I decided long ago not to use in my campaign. It keeps coming up, because the official rule for opposed checks in the game is a little clunky and rewards whichever party acts first. (My Stealth vs your Observation is usually a better die pool for me than your Observation vs my Stealth would be.)

The proposed opposed check house-rule is:
valvorik, on 13 May 2014 - 04:43 AM, said:A variant opposed check rule floating around has been to use "challenge dice equal to opposing stat -2", so sneaking past Int 6 is 4 challenge dice.
So if your character's Intelligence is 3, all Stealth checks against them would be vs 1 Purple die. If your Int is 2 or less, there's no purple dice on those rolls. 

(What follows is a slightly revised version of something I posted at FFG's Warhammer FRP forums. I'm cross-posting it here largely to preserve the math that went into it.)

I know a lot of GMs use that as a house-rule, but I don’t feel it improves the odds (or game experience) in most situations. The only thing I particularly like about that rule is that it’s simple and requires no chart-referencing or division at the table top.  That alone is almost enough for me to adopt it, but in the end I decided against it after running the math on how it affects the odds of common rolls.

(As a reminder: PCs can have stats from 2 to 6, but no higher than 5 at character creation. NPCs can have stats below or above that range, but it's somewhat rare. That's why my table starts with 2 and ends with 6, but has opposed values of 1 to 7.)

Opposed Stats    | original success rate    | house-rule success rate

2 opposed by 1     44%             75%
2 opposed by 2     25%             75%
2 opposed by 3     14%             44%
2 opposed by 4      8%              25%
2 opposed by 5      8%              14%
2 opposed by 6      8%               8%
2 opposed by 7      8%               4%

3 opposed by 1     88%             88%
3 opposed by 2     59%             88%
3 opposed by 3     38%             59%
3 opposed by 4     24%             38%
3 opposed by 5     24%             24%
3 opposed by 6     14%             14%
3 opposed by 7     14%              9%

4 opposed by 1     94%             94%
4 opposed by 2     72%             94%
4 opposed by 3     72%             72%
4 opposed by 4     51%             51%
4 opposed by 5     37%             37%
4 opposed by 6     37%             23%
4 opposed by 7     37%             14%

5 opposed by 1     97%             97%
5 opposed by 2     97%             97%
5 opposed by 3     81%             81%
5 opposed by 4     81%             63%
5 opposed by 5     63%             46%
5 opposed by 6     46%             32%
5 opposed by 7     46%             21%

6 opposed by 1     98%             98%
6 opposed by 2     98%             98%
6 opposed by 3     88%             88%
6 opposed by 4     88%             72%
6 opposed by 5     88%             56%
6 opposed by 6     72%             42%
6 opposed by 7     56%             30%

Which stats benefit from this house-rule?  I find I don't like the answers to that question.

A “2” in something is now much better at offense, and only weaker at defense when being targeted by someone with a low-to-middling stat. I think that’s overall an improvement for anyone with a “2”, especially PCs. This is because it’s rare that an NPC will target you with an opposed check using a stat that the NPC has a 3 or lower in. Sure, a soldier or goblin will often attack you with Str 3, but that will be vs Target Defense, not vs your dump stat. A hypothetical min-maxed PC with a Fellowship of 2 has a 44% chance of talking his way past the city-watch using this house-rule, where the original rules would have that success rate down at a punishing 14%. PCs with a 2 in Agi, Int or Fel will hardly every suffer for it, and this makes that even more true. So I kinda prefer the original rules, just because they’re harder on munchkins.

Average PCs, making fairly typical checks, won’t see much of a difference. They’ll be a little better at affecting people far below them in stats, and a little worse at affecting those who greatly outclass them. Neither is going to happen often enough to make a big impact. 3 vs 3 gets easier, and that's the only mid-range roll with a major change that's likely to come up often at all. In my experience, PCs with a 3 in a stat are pretty reluctant to use it (even if it's not an opposed check), and there's almost always someone else in the party who can fill that niche better. I see neither gain nor loss from this house-rule for this segment of characters.

At the other end of the spectrum, high stats (5 or above) become much less effective against other high-stat characters when using this house-rule. If you’ve got a 5 in something, your active/aggressive use of that stat suffers, but oddly enough your passive/defensive (opposing) use of that stat gets a big bump. That might actually work really well if you’re using ever “player-facing” mechanic you can, as it avoids the problem built-in to WFRP3 where if the players make all the rolls their success rates are much higher than if the GM grabs the dice more often. It's also a benefit if your scenario is relying on a lot of mystery plots, as it protects your Black Cowls and Moriartys a bit from players just spam-Intuition-ing every NPC. Henchmen and average-or-below flunkies will still get broken or revealed by Str 5 Intimidate or Int 5 Intuition checks, but at least the Big Bad can stand in the same room as the PCs without being immediately outed by the wizard/scholar/verenean in the party. The chance of scoring a chaos star while making those Int checks is greatly increased, which helps make spamming them much less attractive.

That last bit is a strong benefit to the game, but it comes at the cost of downgrading many of the best Social Actions and non-combat spells when used against above-average targets. “Influence the Target” takes a nose-dive under this rule, at least when the target is a nobleman with a high Fellowship (who, I should mention, already gets numerous social-encounter benefits for being a nobleman such as increased Shame soak, bonus boon-lines, and minimum Social initiative). The lower success rate further pushes the GM towards ignoring the rules for Shame Thresholds and Progress Trackers in favor of single-roll social encounters just to keep the plot moving (a pressure that GMs feel already with the core system and the overly-long trackers in some of the published expansions). While the total change isn't game-breaking, I really don't like that it only penalizes characters whose focus is outside of combat.

TL;DR: The common House-rule (opposed checks use Purple = opposed stat -2) is a good match for Mystery plots with competent villains, and is better the more you have PCs roll instead of NPCs. The downside is that it rewards min-maxed and combat-focused characters, and devalues Social actions.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Pilgrimage of Fingers

I created this Pilgrimage of Fingers "secret society" card for Warhammer 3rd a while ago, and have finally decided to share it here. I didn't want to post it here while there was still a decent chance it would come up in my campaign. The secret society mechanics are a little weird because they give PCs bonuses, and yet the GM can't really let the player see the tracking sheet as it's typically riddled with spoilers.

As of this most recent session, the PCs at my table have left the town they were in, and rejected the prospect of having low-level Ranaldite minions accompany them. That means I can safely share the Pilgrimage of Fingers card at this time without it spoiling any future plot developments.

The back of the card (pictured above) is almost entirely a quote from the Warhammer 2nd Ed Tome Of Salvation, as those three paragraphs sum up the "Pilgrimage" quite nicely and there's not a lot of other canonical detail about it available elsewhere.

The front of the card (pictured below) is laid out very similar to the secret society cards from Lure of Power. There's an upper track that is used as the PC infiltrates the group or proves their worth to the NPCs. The further right your marker on the top track, the better respected you are in the group. They get moved to the lower track when they reach the point of being drawn into the inner circle and/or learning the groups dirtiest darkest secrets. The further right your marker on the bottom track, the closer you are to being kicked out, disavowed, betrayed or driven crazy by the hard truths.

I followed the pattern of the existing Secret Society cards pretty closely, picking the most common configuration amongst the example cards from Lure of Power and just chose new powers and consequences that roughly fit that same power-level at each step.

Exactly what insanity the GM attaches to the card will say a lot about the cult of Ranald in your game. The obvious straight-forward choices would be "Gold Lust" or "Suspicious Mind", either of which would rely on just greed or mafia tropes rather than some sort of dark secret like most of the secret society cards harbor. Both of those insanities impact social checks, so that would really be sharpening the back edge of the double-edged sword that is space 7 of the second track. GMs may find it useful then to have some deeper secret behind the pilgrimage to justify a less-social insanity. Here's a few alternate "dark secrets of the Pilgrimage" that are a little more "outside the box", and suggestions about what insanities might be attached then:
  • You discover the Pilgrimage of Fingers is actually an entrapment operation set up by the Vereneans or the Witch-Hunters or some other law-and-order enforcing group to fool criminals into marking themselves. (Insanity: Paranoia)
  • There is no Ranald, it's just Tzeentch running a particularly long con. (Insanity: Mental Mutation... or maybe just replace the Insanity slot with a Mutation slot.)
  • There is no Ranald, or at least he was never a God. Any blessings and miracles are just manifestations of psychic group thought, or dumb unguided luck. All those crooks and gamblers have fooled themselves into thinking there's someone watching over them but there really isn't. (Insanity: Lack of Confidence or Faltering Steps)
  • The entire cult of Ranald is secretly run by some foreign entity. A mob of crooks based out of Tilea or Marienburg, and some percentage of your "income" has to be passed along to this outside group. (Insanity: Paranoia or possibly Xenophobia depending on the group, maybe Don't Leave Me if they're likely to kill to keep the secret.)
  • Ranald and Handrich are the same God... and this is... somehow... scary... or something... I dunno.  (Insanity: probably Gold Lust?)
  • There is no Verena (or Sigmar, or Shallya, etc. Insert-your-favorite-God-here)... they are just Ranald running a particularly long Con. (Insanity: Dreadful Insight)
  • Ranald is actually just the God of luck and chance, and nothing else. All this "God of Thieves" criminal nonsense is a perversion of his cult that was inflicted intentionally by some outside meddling force. (Insanity: Thrill-Seeker?)
  • The Pilgrimage of Fingers is actually dedicated to tearing down the institutions of nobility. The last few fingers aren't just fetch-it quests, they're assassination orders or market manipulations that will devastate entire provinces. (Insanity: Easily Goaded)
  • You're not sure what the secret is, but there definitely is one. Everytime you meet up with the higher-priests who would give you your orders, you black out and loose several hours of memories. They must be using some sort of mind control blessing, but to what ends? (Insanity: Fading Memories or Straying Thoughts)

Any of those could work if you wanted the big reveal to be something the players won't necessarily see coming. As for what the big reveal would have been in my campaign had the PCs decided this plotline into the den of thieves... well, like any good Ranaldite, my lips are sealed.  X

Some parting accessories: As mentioned above, one thing I don't like about the secret society cards is that you can't just hand them to your player(s) or you'll reveal all sorts of spoilers. WFRP3's whole design philosophy is that every ability should be on a card right at the player's fingertips. That suggested that I should gin up some small cards to hand out as the PC progresses along the path. Ta-da!

Membership Space 2:

Membership Space 5:

Inner Circle Space 7: