[WFRP 3E] Under The Chaos Moon

Started by Renee, June 11, 2011, 09:06:03 AM

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Hey all!

I've been vacillating on Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3E for a while. Despite being a fan of the setting and color elements (especially the first edition roleplay stuff), and despite being intrigued by the new resolution mechanic, I was put off by all the moving pieces in the new edition. Anyone who's looked at it knows what I'm talking about...custom dice, hundreds of cards, chits, interlocking puzzle pieces, cardboard character stand-ups, and so on. More to the point, I was sure my friends would be put off by it. It's been sitting on my shelf for a year, and every now and then I'd pull it down and get excited, but then think about all the fatigue tokens and stress tokens and recharge tokens...and it ends up going back on the shelf. But I'd been running a Pathfinder game for a month or two with waning enthusiasm, and FFG had just published a series of books that allegedly made it possible to play WFRP 3E without using all (or any) of the components...so I pitched it to my players, and a couple were willing to give the game a shot.

I'll note here that despite FFG's assertions about componentless play, it really isn't designed with that in mind. You may get away with tracking certain character abilities on paper, but you should still expect to use a lot of the pieces..action cards and progress trackers seem especially indispensable to me now, and you will need something to track the ever changing stress/fatigue/recharge (I prefer dice to chits, personally). Ultimately your affection for resource tracking and management will impact your enjoyment of this game, because there's a lot of it.

My players were Matt and Jon, and we got together two weeks ago to do character creation. I wasn't sure how much time to set aside for this; as it turns out, three hours wasn't enough. There is A LOT of stuff to sort through, a lot of decisions to be made, and when every character career, ability, talent, and action is printed on a card and you have to share those cards among you, it takes a while. Still, it was fun; even without knowing the rules, they seemed to dig on the plentiful, colorful choices. This is not Warhammer of old...with these rules, two players could each make a roadwarden and I'm confident each would feel and play pretty differently. So for interested parties, chargen basically boils down to this, although not necessarily in this order: pick a race, pick a career, locate your career's special ability card, spend points on characteristics/skills/actions/talents/wealth, sort through the action and talent cards to decide which ones you actually want, buy gear, note your wound and corruption thresholds, and finish up with any background material you want.

Matt created Carmina, a zealot. The cool thing about zealots is that they can purchase and use Insanities as Talents (talents being minor special abilities in different flavors), so Matt got to look through the Insanity deck as well as the Talent deck when building his character. So Carmina is starting out a little troubled and we needed some background for that. Matt said he definitely wanted it to involve Chaos (capital C) but was leaning on me a bit for suggestions, since I'm the setting guru in our group. I know that Carmina is a shield-fighter of sorts. I also knew that the adventure I was prepping featured a beastman bray shaman who could call meteors from the sky on nights when Morrslieb, the Chaos Moon, was full. I suggested Carmina had once been a shield-bearer for the Knights Panther and that one night her contingent successfully got the jump on a herd of brazen beastmen wandering too far outside the bowers of the Drakwald forest. They dispatched the beastmen with little trouble, but the herd's shaman escaped into the forest. The knights gave chase, with Carmina following as best she could, and they eventually pinned the exhausted shaman against a strange monolith in a moonlit grove. Just then a star fell out of the sky, destroying the knights and nearly killing Carmina, even though she was hundreds of yards away. She came to in time to see the bray shaman climb from the edge of the crater. Moments later dozens of beastmen emerged from the forest, as if drawn here, and amid their strange revelry she herd the shaman say one word she could understand "Amosstein". Matt liked that, but wasn't sure it was *quite* enough to explain Carmina's madness...he wanted to juice it a bit, and we batted ideas back and forth, finally agreeing that at least one of the Knights Panther survived the meteor fall, but is now corrupted beyond recognition and serving the bray shaman as a personal bodyguard of sorts. His name is Ernst Lundt.

Jon created Ceric,a messenger. Ceric's thing is that he works for and around nobles, and has greater ambitions than mere servitude. Again, I was given a lot of room to suggest things. I knew I wanted to include lots of political intrigue in and around the city of Nuln, so I offered that Ceric's father, Velten, was the Chamberlain to one Otto von Winkel, Burgomeister of Ammostein (Amosstein being a tiny village about a day's ride west of Nuln). Otto hates the small town life of Ammostein and spends almost all of his time in Nuln attending parties, living the high life, and most of all trying to impress the Countess Emanuelle von Liebwitz. Velten attends to the day-to-day affairs of Amosstein but Otto, being the pain-in-the-ass that he is, still requires a minimal involvement in most administrative decisions. Lots of correspondence moves between Amosstein and Nuln, and since he was old enough to make the trip on his own, Ceric has been the primary courier for both Velten and Otto. Jon liked all of this and added that during his trips to Nuln, Ceric is always looking to catch the eye of the nobles...particularly the Countess, who he has met once, albeit ever-so-briefly.

A week later we were sitting down to play. Another note for those considering running this game: Make sure you do some prep ahead of time. I'm not someone to over-prepare - in fact, most would say I under-prepare - but I couldn't imagine trying to wing a session of WFRP 3E. Maybe I'll feel differently with a few sessions under my belt, but right now no way. Non-player characters have a lot of resources and moving pieces too, and then there is the Progress Tracker mechanic, which I knew I wanted to abuse but which requires forethought if you're going to use it as a pacing tool. Plus I had downloaded a nifty font for all the custom die symbols, so I just had to play with that. The prep ended up being a lot of fun - I was one of those people who liked building elaborate Magic decks and his had a similar vibe, putting pieces together in new and interesting ways - but it was time consuming.

So how does it play? Pretty great, actually. I qualify this by noting that it was only one session, and that I fumbled a bit at the end when the more complicated combat rules kicked in, but even so, it was some of the most actual fun I've had running a game in a long, long time. Both Matt and Jon really enjoyed themselves as well. The first hour was especially golden as the system, setting, and color really meshed for us. This is also possibly my greatest frustration with the game, though, because the designers either don't know what they have, or they do but they don't think their audience is savvy enough to appreciate it.

How to describe this succinctly? The basics of the system are this: The players get some dice based on their characteristics and skills and how "reckless" or "conservative" their characters are being (which is tracked and is not simply a thing decided upon in the moment), and possibly some bonus dice based on things their characters are doing or have done, or just for the players saying and doing cool things. Then the GM assigns dice to reflect difficulty, but also other things that may put the characters at a disadvantage, like inclement weather or bad footing or whatever. And it's all sorts of different dice, and some are better than others, and some are worse. And rather than pips, the dice have custom symbols that mean different things: Hammers are "successes" and swords are "challenges", and swords cancel out hammers; eagles are "boons" and skulls are "banes" and these also cancel each other out; there are little blood drops for "stress" and hourglasses for "delays" and these have special effects of their own; and there are also twin-tailed comets and chaos stars, which are rare and powerful and do not cancel each other out. You roll your dice and interpret the results; if there are any successes left after counting challenges, you succeed; if there are boons left something good happens and if there are banes left something bad happens, but these are side-effects or complications that happen regardless of whether you succeeded or failed; if you rolled stress your character gains fatigue or stress, and if you rolled a delay you encounter a setback that doesn't affect the quality of your success or failure, but takes up time; and if you roll roll either a comet or a chaos star something big happens apart from or in addition to whatever success or failure you achieved. Okay, so that wasn't succinct at all. It's also not as complicated as it seems; I expected the handling time for this to be shit, but we never had a problem rolling a fistful of dice and interpreting results. Now, none of this is especially mind-altering for those who have been playing indie games for any length of time, but it's a nice simple approach to a) creating nuanced outcomes that are never merely succeed/fail and b) encouraging creative contributions from players without being explicitly about sharing narration rights. I mean, you roll the dice and you end up with potentially five different things to account for in the outcome (success/failure, boons/banes, delays/stress, comets and chaos stars), and you don't want to let anything go to waste. And yes, in combat and sometimes other situations you're using an action card which will suggest ways to interpret some of those things, but a lot of the times you're not, and even if you are the card doesn't necessarily account for every die you have showing. It creates perfect opportunities for everyone at the table to offer input, and some of that input is great.

Ceric had brought a message to Otto, informing him that villagers in Amosstein were growing anxious as rumors of beastmen lurking in the forest were starting to heat up. Otto tells Ceric to convey his reply: Show me some proof and I'll trouble the Countess for a contingent of militiamen, but not before. En route back to Amosstein, and already contemplating how he can help the village while not embarrassing Otto publicly, Ceric encounters Carmina on the road to Nuln. She tells him about her encounter with the bray shaman in the Drakwald forest, and her belief that he is leading a beastman army towards Amosstein. Considering this proof enough, Ceric rides back to Nuln with Carmina. By the time they arrive, night has already fallen and Otto is ensconced at a party, hoping to gain some face time with the Countess who has made it known she might make an appearance.

The first thing the heroes have to do is get into the party. Ceric is known enough that he might be able to enter if it's seems like his business is urgent, but Carmina is fresh from the road and pretty disheveled. If this were, say, Pathfinder, I'd probably let them roleplay through it but eventually just let them in. Here, even though it was a minor encounter, I felt pretty safe calling for a roll; Ceric is built to be a social character after all. One of the guards kind of scoffs at Carmina's appearance though, so Matt decided he wants to intimidate him. I have Matt roll first, rationalizing that Carmina's cold stare is going to "go off" before any amount of fast talk Ceric can manage. Matt builds his die pool, I add some some misfortune dice to account for Carmina's rough appearance (and nasty odor); he rolls and fails, but comes up with a pair of Boons. We don't quite know what to do with the Boons, but then Jon suggests that maybe it's the fact that the first guard is busy snickering under his breath about Carmina that gives Ceric the quiet moment he needs to persuade the other guard to let them in. Brilliant! Matt agrees, so I hand Jon two fortune dice, one for each of Matt's rolled Boons, and he succeeds amazingly on his roll. The second guard leads them into the mansion and to a sitting room while the first guard stands there dumbfounded at what just happened.

But it only got better from there. A moment later Otto, red-faced from two much drink and wine-glass in hand, arrives. Ceric tells him Carmina's story, which Otto doesn't care much for. "This," he says, gesturing at Carmina and sloshing wine over the lip of his glass, "is the proof you brought me?" Ceric tries to persuade him but Otto is inebriated, which brings with it extra misfortune dice. Jon rolls and fails, but does achieve a comet(!). We could convert a comet into a regular success (per the rules) but we also have the option of doing something much cooler with it...but what? Matt knew: "This is when the Countess shows up". And it was perfect. Suddenly the Countess and a pair of servants are at the door and she asks, "what's this about beastmen? Otto, please tell me this is a joke." Ceric immediately tries to explain but Otto is determined to quiet him, by talking over him and basically asserting his privilege. It's going to be a mess of misfortune dice but then Matt says, "No way, I want him to fear me (Fear Me! is an action card that among other things, imbues the character with a fear rating for a period of time)". Matt rolls and succeeds, and on top of that, he rolls a Boon, which the Fear Me card says can be spent to inflict one Stress on the target of the card...Stress converts to Wounds automatically on most NPCs. Matt describes how he does a "fake out" lunge towards Otto, causing the already drunk man to stumble and fall backwards, spilling wine on himself and gashing his forehead on the edge of a chair. Otto is no longer a factor in Ceric's conversation, so Ceric rolls sans any misfortune dice and succeeds brilliantly...a regular success, some boons, but also with a delay. The outcome is obvious: The Countess invites Ceric to join her later in her private quarters to "continue their conversation". The Boons translate into a nice night's sleep for Carmina and her first solid meal in weeks, compliments of the Countess and the staff of her guest house.

On top of all that, their inspired suggestions earned some Fortune Point rewards from me too (Fortune Points are a bit like fan mail in PTA, except awarded by the GM).

Within an hour of play, the players and the system had already provided a ton of great content I hadn't planned on. Ceric had make an important, if fleeting, political contact that plays perfectly into his background and which I can't possibly ignore going into future sessions. And Carmina has embarrassed Otto in front of the one person he absolutely never wanted to be embarrassed in front of...also something I'm not likely to ignore. On top of that, Ceric had secured a contingent of thirty trained militiamen to help defend Amosstein...a development I expected would take them longer and be much difficult to bring about. This is all great stuff, and as far as I can tell it's what the resolution mechanic was built for.

Which brings me back to my frustration. With this, and other stuff, going for it, why does the GM Guide require a bunch of "advice" on how to keep players from derailing stories, when and when not to fudge dice rolls, how to introduce "clues" to players in such a way that the players feel like they actually "found them", a section called "Magician's Choice" which instructs GMs to present players with "decisions" that lead to the same place, and in general reinforce the idea that the GM is the one "telling the story"? I have no problem with illusionism, or whatever it is we're calling it these days, but this is the old White Wolf problem again, only in reverse: Their text promised to involve players deeply and reward them for their creativity, but their system went to lengths to prevent that from happening. Here we have a system that practically begs for everyone at the table to join in, and a whole bunch of advice for the GM on how to keep the players from ruining his plans when they do so. Not a new problem, I guess, but one I'm a little surprised by, especially given some of the smart choices that went into the design of this game.

There's tons of other stuff to discuss about WFRP 3E, like where exactly its agenda is, and whether it achieves its goals and manages to be coherent. But I'll need more actual play under my belt before venturing those thoughts. So has anyone else given this a spin yet? What were your impressions?


Some additional Warhammer thoughts...

We've played something like one-and-a-half more sessions since my first post. Paul and Danielle have been added to the mix, although Jon had to miss Tuesday's session on account of work.

Paul created Wilmar, a Pistolier in the Nuln militia. Although it was never explicitly addressed at character creation, Paul posited in Wilmar's first scene that he was a person of at least some rank, and therefore in command of the thirty-odd militiamen who had been sent to the small town of Amosstein to defend against a rumored beastman attack. I stole this away a bit later when a superior officer arrived, at the head of the reinforcements the heroes had requested. I'm still trying to decide if this was okay or not (more on this below).

Danielle created Lorelei, an elven Bounty Hunter (though one slightly drifted from the official Bounty Hunter career...more focused on melee than ranged combat). We don't know much about Lorelei's background at this point, except that she's seeking the bounty for the mysterious and possibly mythical beastman chieftain, Gore-Rutter. The bounty is being offered up by a secret collective of Amossteiners, acting independently of burgomeister Otto von Winkel and the militia, who they have little faith in.

The basic resolution mechanic continues to shine; rolling the dice and interpreting the results remains fun (at least for me), to the extent that I may almost be asking for too many rolls (to the game's credit, even frivolous rolls generally seem to produce interesting outcomes). We haven't had a combat since that first session, and that's where a lot of the game's more fiddly bits will reveal themselves. I think I'll like them just fine, but whether everyone else will or not, I dunno. In other news, Danielle really likes the way the Fortune reward system works, and she's pretty freakin' good at making it work for the party...the moment where the heroes were spying on the beastman camp for the first time and observed a trio of villagers' heads on spikes, and Danielle added "and many other spikes just waiting to filled" was grisly gold.

In spite of its shiny bits and unusual (for a mainstream rpg) mechanics, Warhammer 3E is pretty traditional in a lot of ways. As I noted last time, the text itself seems torn between whether it's a game about players overcoming challenges or players experiencing stories (while providing color via their characters) as told to them by the GM. Personally, I think the mechanical design favors the former, but also, since there are no hard-and-fast rules about what constitutes an "appropriate" challenge for characters of any given rank, the content can be manipulated by the GM to make any victory won by the players an act of generosity on his part. Admittedly, this would be harder to do than in something like D&D - there are just too many moving pieces to make fudging easy - but there's really nothing keeping a GM from piling on obstacles or adjusting enemy stats to make certain outcomes a foregone conclusion. Or changing the situation without giving the players an opportunity to affect that change.

(The latter happened to Paul twice in the most recent session. The first I already described; Paul had established previously that Wilmar was the ranking militiaman in Amosstein, and I suborned that by introducing a character that was his superior. I didn't feel *too* bad about this...Wilmar's role as commander had never been discussed or agreed upon, and wasn't established in any mechanical way, so I still felt like this was an area I could toy with. The second was a little more egregious: an NPC he had built a relationship with, and through the conflict resolution system had established a mechanical benefit with, was ordered out of town, and was therefore moved beyond Wilmar's reach. At the time I had my reasons for it; this was a NPC important to Jon's character, and since he couldn't be here for this session, I felt inclined to start setting up interesting conflicts for him to return to. Also, I had forgotten about the mechanical bonus Paul had earned in the previous session. But even after it was pointed out to me, I went ahead with my plans anyway, which in retrospect was pretty unfair.)

At any rate, I think part of the problem with games like this, which lack formal rules for player goal-setting or GM challenge-creation, is the way expectation gets communicated. How do the players know which challenges are risky propositions, or even possibly operating at scales currently beyond them, if the GM doesn't just come out and tell them? How does the GM know what the players want their characters to achieve if they don't come out and say so? Or to sum up, how does everyone know what the "win" condition is in any given instance of gamist play, absent any specific declaration of such?

An actual play example: In the last scene of the session, our three heroes (and two NPCs) made their way into the forest northwest of Amosstein, successfully locating the beastman camp. One of the NPCs - a very recently widowed villager - who Wilmar has been grooming to exact revenge - spies the heads of her husband and two sons on spikes around a firepit and rushes down the hill towards them in a mad sprint (this was the result of chaos star turning up on a roll, not a planned event at all). Wilmar, with a little help from Lorelei, catches her and drags her to the ground before the beastmen spot her, but thanks to some boons on the roll, is now pinned down on the hillside...moving will almost certainly alert the beastmen to their presence (or at least incur some penalties to the inevitable stealth check). Wilmar, from his position nearer the camp, can make out an eerie, haunting chanting coming from a strange makeshift tent, and the other heroes - taking time to assess the scene - get their first look at all three of the villains they've been seeking...corrupted Knight Panther Ernst Lundt, semi-mythical beastman chieftain Gore-Rutter, and the meteor-summoning bray shaman whose name they don't know yet. Oh, and about fifty or so other beastmen of various sizes and descriptions, none of whom look friendly. The one thing that maybe, possibly, favors the heroes: Gore-Rutter doesn't seem to like Ernst Lundt very much. And that's where the session ended.

Okay, I think it's pretty obvious this isn't a fair combat situation for the player characters.  "Winning" in this situation does not mean "killing all the beastmen", and I think we're all on the same page regarding that. What I'm not sure about is what the players would consider a "win". Was finding out the numbers of beastmen good enough? How about discovering that Gore-Rutter and Lundt aren't exactly buddy-buddy? Considering just how dramatic the scene is, it's fair to assume to the players want more, but what? Figuring out the warherd's specific plan of attack? Luring away one of the leader types and possibly disposing of them? Something else?

To take it further, I think it's also pretty obvious that the three villainous champions, by virtue of having names and in some cases being part of individual character's backgrounds, are tougher than the rank and file beastmen...these are definitely the "bosses" (or at least a few of them). What's not clear to me, though, is how tough the players think these guys are. I envisioned them as campaign-level villains and designed them accordingly*, meaning if the heroes somehow foil their evil plan, I will consider it a win for the players. If the heroes manage to kill or otherwise outright defeat one of the named villains, it would be an extraordinary victory in my mind. But what seems like a "win" to me has little bearing on what is actually fun for the players. Would either of the above proposed outcomes be satisfying to the players, or would they feel like they had "lost" if they don't eliminate all the bad guys? Does being clear about my expectations help at all? Maybe this over-arching challenge has little-to-nothing to do with fun or winning for the players, so long as they have opportunities to step up to other, more player-driven goals?**

* Not having played this game before, statting up NPCs is a bit of a crap shoot, even with a lot of published material to riff off of. These guys could end up under-powered relative to my imagination, but that doesn't change the intent of my design.

** Ideally, I think this is what I'd like to see happen most. I don't think anyone else has been quite as happy as Jon so far, who has seen his character, Ceric, make tangible strides towards his stated goal of obtaining real political power for himself. A close second might be Paul, when his character Wilmar - in response to hearing a widow's pleas to avenge the death of her family - snatched up a pistol and placed it in her hands. It was a great moment that I think contributes to an unstated goal of Paul's to get the villagers to take up arms in their own defense. Insofar as it is unstated, I still kind of wonder whether that is a significant thing around which "fun" hinges for Paul.


On the rank thing.  I would say that, if you are essentially happy with the player assuming that power on behalf of the character, then it would have been rather better to have given the opportunity to use and enjoy it a bit before taking it away.  It would be perfectly reasonable to take it away as a method of increasing tension, but at present it probably feels like it has been made irrelevant.  Maybe you could arrange for the superior officer to fall into a hole at some future point and thus allow the player to resume that position.

I'm not sure that it makes sense to assume that becuase a scene is dramatic that the players are going to want to push things further. under the circumstances you describe,. I'd pretty much consider "getting away alive" to be a respectable win condition, especially as it will carry with it the victory of gaining intelligence on the enemy.  More broadly, the issue of win conditions for play is a real concern.  i think that properly structured gamist games do have explicit win conditions - kill the big bad, clear the dungeon, get away with maximum loot.  Many of the problems that I think RPGing has encountered have arisen,IMO, in precisely the position you are now in - where play has moved out of the dungeon but is still using much the same methods.  One thing you might do is to intrude into the naturalistic flow of description and dcecption and ask them "what are your goals for this scene/situation".  This doesn't really resolve the general case problem but it would hopefully get you and them on the same page at least as to what they are trying to do.

I also think it's dangerous to treat all three of these villains as campaign level.  If all of them escape to fight another day it is probably the case that the players will feel they have not won.  Being explicit about this intention doesn't really help; the problem is still that you're dangling bait in front of them and then snatching it away.  At the very best, assuming it can all be engineered smoothly and without deus ex machina intervention, you will end up with an overall worse outcome than if the three villains had not been there at all, and the players had been able to bask in their victory of dispersing the enemy forces.  What you will get instead is a sense of partial, qualified, or incomplete victory.

If I were to make a wild-assed guess, based on on nothing more the the genre and subcultural conventions, I would hazard that they think that they are looking at one boss and two henchmen, that the henchmen will be named and have special abilities but won't really be too hard to beat, and that the boss is intended as the grand finale.  If that's not to be the case, then I think the best course of action would be to get rid of them now, openly and explicitly, before direct hositilities even begin.  Send them off somewhere else, in a way that the players can see and know about, so that it is clear to them that their appearance was for informational puroses only.

On the whole, this sort of things has a pretty bad history in RPG to date.  It lends itself too easily to the GM controlling the outcome of events, and rendering the protagonists efforts meaningless.  By preference, I would suggest you resign yourself to throwing at least one of these villains under the bus, and not trying to finagle a narrow escape for more than one of the others (and ideally neither).

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci



I think it's too late for the superior officer to disappear. If there was disappointment in being suborned, it's been somewhat mitigated by the fact that Paul's character, Wilmar, established something of a relationship with him pretty quickly. Paul expressed some appreciation for the way that played out, and I'm not going to arbitrarily yank yet another resource from the players.

I don't want to say too much more about the major villains except that a) yes, it may be reasonable for me to demote one or two of them slightly and b) one of them does stand above the others as a leader and source of potential trouble (but he's also the hardest to get at because one of the others is his henchman/bodyguard). Upon reflection, I'm wondering if this "campaign level" stuff is really just an artifact of my own gaming past that needs to be purged. Why not just make bosses who present a clear, if difficult, challenge, and see what happens? If they survive, great...they become recurring characters and I can adjust their profiles to accomodate future appearances. Why am I planning their futures already? (these are rhetorical questions but feel free to reply anyway).

The issue of GM control and illusionism has always been fascinating to me, probably because I practiced/do practice it so much. And that's not to say that I think it's always bad, but it's also not what I was going for here. Paul and I had a pretty long discussion yesterday, in which we talked about whether Warhammer 3E supports player-driven gamism, or simple illusionism. The dice pools are a good example: the players have a lot of ways to influence what they roll during any given conflict in the game, but the GM always has the ability to add Misfortune and Challenge dice, with apparently no checks or balances. This is the problem so many other games have had...player ability to influence outcomes is, for lack of a better word, an illusion. And maybe out of unwillingness to admit defeat in the discussion, I turned to the rulebook for support and located a tiny bit of text that states that after the GM commits his dice to the die pool, the players get "final say"...meaning they can continue to add dice to the pool after the GM is all-in, or even pull out of the die roll without penalty if they feel like it's too risky (though there's no guarantee a better option will be made available to them). So that suggests a conscious effort on the designers' part to promote risk-assessment and player-driven conflict resolution. But, of course, it's undercut by a lot of other stuff, including a lack of goal-setting procedures...or even textual guidance to that end.

None of which is to say the game isn't fun. I'm digging it, and so are the players. And I'm savvy enough to fill in what I perceive as blank spots in the text with informal technique. But as a tangible object, it's just a little frustrating to see something so interested in being different bogged down by old presumptions.

Callan S.

QuoteBut what seems like a "win" to me has little bearing on what is actually fun for the players.
In traditional board games what is winning is explicitly displayed up front WELL before play begins. Indeed it basically creates what I think is the healthy process that if a player thinks that win condition is fun at the moment, he will sign up. If he doesn't, he wont.

I think alot of supposed sandbox computer game titles use an overall mission arc that you have to complete, BUT you can wander off and do things on the side (which might gain you resources that help towards completing the missions of the main mission arc. But doing side stuff does not in itself advance the main mission arc). And again as above, the main mission arc is described on the box or the blurb or both. People who like that arc join in. You don't have to worry about those who don't like it, as they don't sign up.

If you treat such a mission arc as a tower, you suddenly realise what your traditional RPsupposedG provides you with is rubble.

Your kind of stuck now in the midst of something and so have lost the capacity for defining the main win condition/main mission arc and along with it, the capacity for just having people who like that to turn up.

Not that you couldn't work one out for next session, but then someone might go 'Eww, I don't really like that' and you'll go through the usual pattern of wanting to be inclusive of them. But the thing is, if they had know the arc from the begining, they wouldn't have shown up. So you wouldn't have had any concerns about including their little wants.

So I think you can either go for a money pit situation, trying to throw more and more effort into it to chase down their fun (oh, have I been there), or you can ignore what the players find fun and simply define an overall win condition/main mission arc, regardless of whether that culls off part or all of the group. Built it...and those who like it...will come.

That's what I think, as I scrabble amongst the rubble...


Nyaargh.  Yes, but then again, no.  I'm talking about "just letting things play out".  Because if what you have already done is statted up these villains in such away that they are "suitable opponents for 20th level characters" or something, then giving the players the come on to have a go at them is pretty irresponsible.  They're likely to take you at your (implied) word and get smashed, in which case you may well find yourself just fudging the other way, to let the characters off the hook.

The illusionism things is, well, complicated.  I don't think there's anything wrong with in principle, although I will agree that many of the practices by which it has been conducted, and many of the ends to which it has been directed, are rightly criticised as destructive and deprotagonising.  But my take on it has always been at odds with most everyone because I take the term quite literally, in a stage magic sense.  I think you can do a hell of a lot with perception and expectation that don't require such crudities as fudging dice and whatnot.  But I also don't hold with the whole "just see what happens" school of thought because IME that produces dull, predictable, and often over-rational outcomes that are just boring and unfun.

Hence my suggestion was quite serious.  If you don't want to be forced into the corner of either saving the villains from the characters or the characters from the villains, you have to explicitly take them off the board right now.  You do have to think about the perceptions that you have created or encouraged, and at the moment it is likely that your presentation has advertised these villains to the players as their proper target.  I.E. that they will solve the problem of the warherd by dealing with these villains.  But according to your setup, that was never actually intended to be the case.  If you now openly take them out of the immediate frame, then the players will interpret their appearance as foreshadowing or something, which it more or less is, and concentrate on the problem that is still in front of them.

What worries me when say that these villains should be a serious challenge, combined with letting things play out, is that it sounds dangerously like it's heading the sort of thinking that causes major problems, i.e. "the players should realise they are out of their league".  Because unfortunately it's likely that the players will be thinking "the GM wouldn't send us up against enemies that are out of our league".  And when you both end up thinking in terms of should's and would's, nobody is thinking about what is actually there.  And what's actually there, at the moment, is a setup which by every trope and convention of the genre suggests that the heroes should storm in, put the villains to the sword, and the minions will disperse.  It is only if you allow that happen that you will find yourself having to fudge outcomes one way or the other.

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci


@ Callan

The good thing about this particular group is that we're pretty up front when we're not having fun. And there's not really a problem with someone saying "okay, this isn't my thing" and then bowing out. It doesn't impact whether we get together for the next game of whatever it is someone wants to run, or any of the other social stuff we sometimes do together.

But I'm also not overly worried about that happening now if I or the players suddenly decide to make explicit a "win condition" (or conditions). I mean, from the very beginning everyone knew certain things: There was a beastman shaman, he could sometimes make meteors fall out of the sky, and he was heading to a tiny village outside of Nuln. There was never a mystery about any of that, but still, there are a number of ways this could end depending on how the players want to approach things , and this is where I think it's my job to understand what would be fun for them. Is saving the villagers good enough, even if it means the village itself is destroyed? How about saving the villagers and preventing the village from being destroyed? Maybe their priority is killing the shaman, even if it means sacrificing the village and/or the innocent lives of the townsfolk? These are all things easily identifiable at this point in the game, and the only thing that would really not be fun is if I make the thing the players *want* to do impossible for them to do.

And, of course, we're talking about the overarching "plot", without consideration for other things that might be just as much (or more) fun for the players. Player-driven things like Jon's desire to see Ceric succeed in his political ambitions (and so on). Or things that are not so much related to in-game content, but to the social act of roleplaying itself...like having one's creativity acknowledged and rewarded. I guess this is a sort of long-winded way of saying I agree, but it's not a simple thing.

(and also that in all this time I haven't mentioned anything about what Warhammer is most famous for: It's career advancement system. If there's an implicit "objective" to the game, it probably lies there.)

@ Contracycle

That's a pretty fair articulation of my concerns, up to this point. I don't necessarily operate with the expectation that because a given villain makes an in-the-flesh appearance that they're fair game, or operating at the same scale of power as the heroes, or any of the rest of that...but I also realize many players do, and that there's not much reason for them to think otherwise.

At any rate, I'm disinclined to fix that by removing my baddies to some far away locale. Given what's gone before, I think that would be pretty unsatisfying for all of us. And I'm not going to fudge die rolls (I actually think that would be pretty hard to do with this game, and in general, I loath such behavior. Doing so would be a fundamental slide away from what I've said I wanted to do with WFRP, and a slide towards what I said I didn't want to do). So yeah, I'll let it play out and see what happens. Maybe with some stat adjustments (although I still have the issue of not knowing what represents an adequate challenge for three starter characters in this game).

Switching gears a little bit, one thing that occurs to me as I write is that good games leave you feeling satisfied even if you lose. You might not like losing, but it shouldn't feel stupid, boring, or like a waste of time. That was always my problem with games like D&D, where "losing" pretty much always was unsatisfying. In those times I didn't kick back in my chair shaking my head with a smile and think, "that was close, if only I'd dodged instead of pressing the attack" or "if only I'd used cleave instead of whirlwind attack"...rather, it was more like "well there was no way I could have beat that" or "the dice fucked me today", or whatever. And I'm trying to decide if WFRP is any different. Maybe...the nuance of the die rolls allow for more than just "succeed" and "fail", the way action cards get used (particularly in combat) seems nicely strategic, and combat withdrawals are made easy enough that I think we'll see a lot of beat-up characters but not a lot of dead ones (which is kind of a big deal to me). But still I wonder, if the villains survive and the village gets crushed under a meteor, will the players still have had a good time? Maybe I'll ask them (or maybe by writing this, I already have).