Last of the horribly past due OHW posts before I do my AmberCon US recap. I’m only a couple months behind. Seriously. =P
For this one, we had a rousing session of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. I’m not sure which edition the GM was using. I believe the newest.
There wasn’t a whole lot of build-up for this. Most of the OHW regulars had been curious about Warhammer for a while. It’s one of those games that gets a lot of talk, where friends advise you that you should give your character some starting XP unless you want your character to accidentally fall off of a dock and drown in the first session. But one of the people present has long enjoyed using that game for more gritty, atmospheric games with only a little bit of combat and offered to run something.
Character creation was almost entirely random. We chose our races, but I think we rolled for just about everything else with a bit of wiggle room in spots. There were some pluses and minuses to it. The plus was that we got through character creation fast. The minus… well, you kinda got stuck with what we had. We had some freedom of career, but it was still mostly shooting in the dark. Playing a overweight, snaggle-toothed halfling messenger would not have been my first choice in a typical fantasy game. It was fun the characters we ended up with, but definitely removed that whole sparklypoo, creating a character you love aspect.
The other aspect, that I hadn’t forseen, was how much this left me feeling disconnected from the rules. It was just a lot of rolls, with occasional choices that we didn’t entirely grok. On the one hand, I imagine that sensation of flying blind is to be expected with any game you don’t the know the rules for. On the other hand, other games would allow you to be conservative in your choices and play a simpler character until you felt like you had your legs underneath you. On the third hand, being able to make your character conservatively often also results in you hamstringing your character out of ignorance.
The random creation was definitely faster than other games and got us from zero to gaming much faster than we would if we played, say, D&D 3.X. And, with the rumors of the games lethality, I could see that being very valuable. But it’s harder to feel connected to that character. I could probably enjoyably play a campaign with a character I just rolled up randomly, but I’m flexible like that. I could see it being a problem.
The rules seemed okay. Like D&D, WHFRP didn’t stray too far from it’s wargaming roots. The core attributes are very similar to those from the Warhammer miniatures game. To the point that two of the core attributes are “Weapon Skill” and “Ballistic Skill,” bringing to mind the Base Attack Bonus from d20. In fact, most of the game was a lot of things I’ve seen in other games: Half and full actions, hit location charts, critical hit charts, insanity points, fate points, etc.
The aspect that really seems to set Warhammer apart from other games is not something we were really able to explore in game: The advancement system. While it is comparable to a class and level setup, it’s not exactly. Instead of the contrived character roles you get in something like D&D, characters in Warhammer have honest-to-god jobs that they’ve trained in. You could be a woodsman, a solder, a merchant, a courier or whatever. And, as you gained in experience, you could explore other career options. Being a “duelist” or a “raconteur” is far more evocative that “fighter” or “rogue.” The part that I think that may be off-putting about it would be just how constrained your options are as you advance. Your skills and abilities are very seem to be very strictly limited by the careers you take.
The part about the session that truly surprised me is that none of our characters died. I’d heard a lot about the lethality of the system, so when the dead rose and we had hordes of zombies chasing after us, we were scared in large part because we were sure this was a very lethal combat system. We got whacked pretty hard over the course of the one-shot, my character nearly got killed, which wasn’t a big surprise since he wasn’t much of a combat character. But otherwise no lethalities. I’m not sure if the GM nerfed the encounters
Compared to the Leading Brand
Though I’ve played a handful of fantasy RPGs over the years, the games that seem to really beg comparison are D&D (and related beasts) and Earthdawn. Mainly in that there’s a class and level structure of some sort and there’s an element of the horrific mind bending horrors possible in the games.
There’s a certain thematic similarity to 7th Sea, but they are mechanically such different beasts that I’ll refrain from going into that one. I might be tempted to compare it to Agone, but we only had one session of it when we played and I remember little of it after all these years. You could also dump a bunch of generic systems in here if you wanted to, but I’ll refrain for now.
In terms of setting, Warhammer is great. It’s got a robust and richly textured world to play around with. It’s very dark and seems to have a lot of potential for adventure ideas. Earthdawn has some similar themes and that same dangerous courtship between the “good” races and the darkness that exists out there. D&D has had some fun ideas (such as Ravenloft or Heroes of Horror) that seem comparable, but they are a little uneven at times.
In terms of rules? A big part boils down to, “How much can I give myself over to random character creation and a weird seeming advancement?” Earthdawn doesn’t even rate in this, as the mechanics make my eyes roll every time I look back on it. While there are many things that I dislike about D&D, I’m hard pressed to find a reason not to use D&D rules in the Warhammer setting.
The core mechanics, from the point of view of “I played this game once and didn’t read the rules in advance,” seemed much simpler than D&D. Which is a plus for me. The cynical side of me points out that D&D 3.X joined the ranks of, “Games I’ve loved that I don’t have the patience to play anymore.” But if you like playing D&D, and the setting for Warhammer seems pretty neat, it’s really easy to just spackle a madness mechanic on the end of D&D, house rule things to make combat more lethal and call it good.
Did I have fun? Yes. I’d probably even be willing to play in a campaign of this. Would I want to run this? Probably not. It makes a fun pick up game, since it’s really easy to make characters and start playing. If I could remove the random element out of character creation, I might even run a campaign.
But the sad truth is that I’d probably be happier using a generic system like Savage Worlds and then adapting it to the setting. I just didn’t feel like there was enough in this to warrant using the game system they provide. It’s a fine system, but it just didn’t get me particularly excited.
The next game we played was Paranoia. I was a little unexpectedly on the hot seat for this one. Before I get to that, I’m going to try and get my ACUS recap written.