Sunday, August 12, 2018

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4th edition, first look

This weekend I had a chance to play around with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay fourth edition. So let’s take a quick step away from wargaming and add some roleplaying to the mix.  Around the end of last year/start of this year I gamemastered a first edition Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Campaign (with the Character Pack and fully random characters). I started with Night of Blood and followed up with Fire in the Mountains. Aside from first edition I’ve also played (and gamemastered several 2nd and 3rd edition campaigns.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is back, this time with a starter set and a collector's edition.

When Cubicle7announced a fourth edition I jumped at the chance and pre-ordered a nice collector’s edition (to throw on the gaming table and play with, a few dents and bruises add value to a book in my opinion). Just before my holiday all pre-orders got a pdf of a draft version of the book (a very clever way to add some extra proof readers to the mix). Even with the rough edges this gives a good chance to play with the game. I’ll give my first impression of (a few of) the new mechanics here, and follow up later with a summary of the first session with my group.

My general impression of the draft (pdf-)version of the Warhammer 4th book: pretty artwork and interesting concepts. They’ve really tried and (IMHO) succeeded in capturing the spirit of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. When printed, this will be a book I’ll just leaf through to dream about playing a random career path, visiting one of those Old World locations or hosting another interesting adventure in. The guide through Reikland is full of little background teasers that instantly make you want to turn them into a scenario. Let’s pick an example blurb text from the book:

“On the festival day of Sonnstill, the ‘hamlet circle’ – a council of the hamlet’s elders – gather to ‘Water the Willows’. This simple ceremony involves singing, dancing, feasting and the slicing of a virile stranger’s throat, splashing blood across the thirsty roots of the Queen Willow, quenching her sanguinary appetites for one more year.”

“Should the ceremony be completed the Queen is pleased and will ensure the hamlet’s safety from the children of the forest. Should the ceremony be interrupted, the Queen awakes and summons her children, bringing braying Beastmen by the score to slaughter all in their path. But outsiders rarely consider such consequences when they have a knife to their throat.”

So many possible adventures, so few gaming nights to try them all…

How to enjoy a good evening's roleplay? Pick a map from a book, redraw it by hand to suit your campaign. Photoshop it to look like parchment and print it on thick, high quality paper.
One of the parts of 1st edition I never really liked (and still didn’t like in 2nd (and still hmpf’ed about in 3rd)) is the magic system. Reading the system in 4th, I think it will work wonderfully. Throwing a quick spell requires a Language (Magic) check. But most serious spells get a difficulty that requires a mage to spend a number of turns testing Channeling, adding successes until the magic number is reached (or fumbling and getting interrupted at some point). The higher the difficulty of the spell, the louder and longer a mage is supposed to channel. Now this will be interesting… It makes magic powerful and different. Discussions about the practical difference between a crossbow and a magic dart can be tabled.

To prepare I built some test characters. From a ‘what can they do?’ perspective: humans are versatile, dwarves are tough, halflings annoying dexterous cooks and elves are still snotty, overpowered, uppity <fill in expletive here>. Like they should be. The career system has been revamped. Every career has four levels (tiers) to ascend through (for instance: pugilist, pit fighter, pit champion, pit legend). A lot of care has been taken to integrate the brass, silver and gold social classes into the system. The new advancement system, career system and all the nuts and bolts give a lot more flexibility to character development over the course of a campaign while maintaining the feel of the original career system.

Fate has been expanded with Resilience (for mental stuff and hardcore stubbornness (<- dwarves get more of this)). Fate points grant you temporary fortune points that allow a quick bonus or a re-roll. My favorite addition is that players can always get an extra reroll by taking a corruption point, have three of four of those and you are in a world of trouble (or on the road to power (its all a matter of perspective of course ;) )). The GM can offer to help you lose one, for a price (falling asleep during watch, letting  a prisoner escape, something like that, GM’s discretion).

Take on enough corruption points, and you'll end up looking like one of these two guys.
To make sure I understood the combat rules I spent a pleasant evening rolling through a few encounters. The old ‘WS 25 vs WS 25 makes for a long night of missed blows’-combat system has been creatively sidestepped. Combat is now a contest between (mostly weapon) skills. Two lousy combatants stand an reasonable chance of hitting each other (by sheer accident). A competent swordsman versus an uppity peasant will favor the swordsman.

An addition to combat is Advantage. If you hit something, or manage to parry an attack, you gain a point of Advantage. Get hit and you lose all your points. Every point of advantage adds a 10 percent bonus. So hit the goblin and you are at +10. Defend against his blow (with that +10) and you are at +20, etc. If combat goes right it just keeps getting better as your spirits are up. Then something gets a lucky blow in (for instance by rolling a double which is a critical hit, or shooting you from a distance, or using a nasty skill or spell) and suddenly the tables are turned again.

Some skills allow you to accrue advantage without fighting. For instance standing (cowering) behind others and using your intuition to ‘assess’ the fight gives you a point (on a successful skill roll, up to your Intelligence bonus). The Leadership skill allows you to pass advantage on to others. I think it will stimulate interesting approaches to combat. You can imagine a rogue hiding in the shadows, taking a few rounds to gather advantage and then jumping out, making a murderous swipe with his poisoned dagger (and rolling a fumble, ending up prone on the floor because the dice gods are naughty deities).

A live action shot of dice gods being naughty during a tabletop wargame.
Combat is still very dangerous (and fun) I tried a combat with a freshly rolled up party of four versus five Goblins riding Giant Spiders. After a glorious and ridiculously easy victory I reread the rules and discovered advantage wasn’t a group, but an individual thing. I tried again and the party ended up webbed, killed and in the goblin pantry rather quickly. I then tried a single river troll versus the same party. It looked like river troll was toast (stupidity makes trolls slow), then the troll got in a few hits and I ended up with four dead characters (as it should). In the end I tried the same party versus two goblin spider riders. The party won but….one member was crawling on the floor, bleeding out (the really bad news: it was the healer of the group) and another character lost five teeth. Welcome to Warhammer 4th, it sports an entire equipment table with prosthetics.

On the downside I found I had to get used to the opposed skill rolling in combat. It is a bit more complex then just rolling beneath a percentile and crossing your fingers. Also the modifiers occasionally make you go cross-eyed as you calculate. As I got going, it did speed up, but it takes some getting used to. On the other hand the rules for fumbles, criticals, injuries and wound recovery look to add a fun extra dimension to the game.

I’ll add another post with a summary of my first gaming session. Hopefully nobody’ll mind me rambling a bit about Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.


  1. Ramble away old boy! I'm keen to know how this new edition compares to the first, which is my favourite.

    Cheers :)

    1. Thanks! Best get ready for another long ramble then, I've got a second article lined up for this afternoon :)

  2. Thanks for posting this! (and the play report). I have a couple of 2nd edition books myself, but never got into a game with it (which never stopped me from developing grandiose campaign ideas, or painting a load of miniatures)

    As an aside, have you tried either "Small but Vicious dog" or Zweihander?

    1. Combining painting with grandiose campaign idea sounds like half the fun of the hobby already :) I have to admit that I had not heard of Small but Vicious Dog (I just found the pdf to the ruleset). My brother actually showed me his Kickstarter (I think) Zweihander book. It struck me as being a bit over the top. Taking itself extremely serious and making some historical assertions that implied it could beat the old Ars' Magica as a replacement for history textbooks. My first instinct (but I may be very wrong) was to run. Too many tables, too much complication. I like rulesets that allow for a bit of dicerolling and excitement, give a feeling of fairness (don't give me as a GM too much of a headache) and that above all don't get in the way of the story. As it worked out so far 4th seems to scratch that particular itch.