[Review] Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying 1st edition Pt. III: Blood for the Blood God

Combat in Warhammer Fantasy is a grisly and grim affair, no less lethal then any of the earlier editions of DnD, albeit with an increased change of getting maimed instead of slaughtered out of hand.

The game starts off on the wrong foot and betrays its wretched wargaming origins, by insisting that you use maps, miniatures (whether improvised or bought at great expense from a certain company that games in a workshop) and other tomfoolery for managing battles. The offence is aggrevated by the inclusion of a large table of nightvision ranges for several bazillion types of creatures, which is cute but in practice will be left on the cutting room floor by many a GM methinks. What IS interesting about this set-up is that the players get to place their characters, with the GM dog-whistling them back if they pull shenanigans and place their characters in the most advantageous position possible.

Combat is not all too disimilar from DnD and thus ALL roleplaying combat. Battle takes place in 10 second rounds, with the highest initiative STAT taking precedence. There is no random nonsense in WHF. You are either fast or you are slow.

Actions during a round are semi-free form, with a number of hard-coded options to handle the bulk of combat-maneuvers and the wisdom of the Almighty GM to handle the rest. One may move one’s movement speed or more if one runs. One may charge, which provides a +10% chance to hit and allows one to attack (with as many attacks as you have) and move in the same round. Anyone not engaged in melee may shoot people. Getting attacked in melee in Warhammer is kind of fucked, since one cannot simply move out of combat to make the hurting stop. This requires a special move called the DISENGAGE. The alternative is the rather less graceful FLIGHT, which means your enemy gets a free stab in before you scurry off with your tail between your mail-clad legs.

It goes without saying that there are the expected bonuses and penalties for charging, having the high ground, fighting from cover, unarmed and, very interestingly, when one is “winning.” In any battle between two sides, the character that causes the most damage in a round has “won” that round and gets a +10 on his attack rolls the next round, thereby allowing him to press his advantage. It also goes without saying that falling prone or getting grappled is very unhealthy and involves automatic hits causing double damage, which puts you out of the fight rather fucking quickly. Simple and effective grappling and stunning rules (or bopping on the head rules if you will) are of course provided, with the neccesary penalties to make it situationally effective only.

An additional mechanism that makes the game very interesting is the Parry mechanic, which functions as follows. During a round, ANY character may attempt to parry an incoming blow by giving up his next attack by succeeding at a Weapon Skill check. You may parry as many attacks as you have attacks (if that makes any sense). Shields are particularly useful in this regard, for though they use up all your attacks in one round and you forfeit their armour bonus should you choose to parry, you get a +20 bonus to your test if you do so. Only some weapons are suitable for parrying with of course.

Missile weapon combat is somewhat more simple. Some weapons require more then a round to draw and aim but in general, one needs a straight line and a BS skill to hit one’s target. Simply firing into a mob of creatures is incredibly easy (double succes chance), but means your hits are distributed randomly across different creatures. Unless your is proficient in the use of the Repeating Crossbow, you get a maximum of 1 shot per round. In a suprising twist, while blackpowder weapons remain unreliable, they are nowhere near as devastating as they would become in later editions (yet are still rather dangerous and unreliable). And praise the gods for molotv cocktail and bomb rules (and the subsequent scatter dice).

Weapon damage hearkens back, as commentator Bigby’s Affirmative Consent Lubed Fist Ribbed For Her Pleasure stated, to OD&D. All melee weaponry inflicts the same base damage (1d6). Depending on the weapon type, there are modifiers for damage dealt, initiative (i.e big weapons are effective but slow), to hit rolls and parrying rolls. Damage is further modified by one’s strength bonus and enemies get to retract their Toughness from any damage they take. Rolling a 6 means you check weapon skill again and if you succeed you roll again and add the two together. Another six means you roll again, no WS check required. Exploding Damage dice, as god intended, make this game lethal as fuck. So far so simple. Missile weaponry instead has a fixed strength, but otherwise operates in a similar fashion.

Some weapons provide additional benefits. Spears and halbeards give a bonus to initiative on the first round (double the bonus if your opponent is stupid enough to be mounted) and if you are winning, lances may only be used effectively while mounted and charging and Sword-Breakers destroy melee weapons on a succesfull parry (but are fairly shit otherwise). The deadliest weapon remains the Great Flail, a truly formidable damage beast that is sluggish and very hard to hit with. Suprisingly terrifying is the Net, which entangles a target upon a succesful hit, meaning he counts as prone and everyone else gets to stick it in his face while he wrestles free like a dummy.

Armour is another departure from DnD. In Warhammer Fantasy armour reduces damage, and its effect is mostly cumulative. This means your chain (Armour bonus 1) stacks with your Plate (armour bonus 1). Being properly armoured means an initiative penalty, and poses some small difficulty, as each hit means a second roll on the hit location table (later on this would be folded into a single roll but whatevs). Wearing a plate + chain but skimped on your leggings and got hit in the knee? Shit out of luck you are! In Warhammer any character may wear armour, and it does not effect spellcasting capabilities in the slightest*. Paupers who cannot afford manly metal armour must make do with leather armour, which protects only against damage rolls between 1-3 (so if you roll 4+ your armour stops nothing).

Damage in Warhammer Fantasy is kind of neat. If When you run out of wounds, you do not die instantly, that would not be any fun. Each hit now becomes a critical hit, which means trouble (and a clunky subsystem). Each hit now means a roll on a d100 table, modified by how much damage was rolled (the flat damage only). Depending on where you are hit and for how much damage, critical hit effects vary from dropping your weapon, getting stunned or penalties until medical attention is receive to permanent maiming, brain damage, broken shards of rib into your lungs, blood loss that requires medical treatment to avoid immanent death (even the mildest of hemmoraeges has a 50% chance per round of ending your fucking life) and, of course, getting murdered.

There are some rules for doing mounted combat, and getting your mount killed from under you can have some serious drawbacks, but in general it is a vast advantage, as attacks directed against you have a chance of striking your mount instead and vice versa.

After all this talk of horrific injury, we end with a segment on recovering wounds. If your character has more then 2 wounds he is considered lightly wounded and will recover naturally (medical attention helps). Heavily wounded characters (less then 2 wounds but no critical hits) need medical attention before they can begin to heal normally. Character that have taken critical hits generally need medical attention so they live long enough to be carted off to someone with the very rare Surgeon skill, from whence the cutting and the sawing may begin. Having a character with the Treat Wounds skill in your party is absolutely vital to the party’s long term and even short term survival, and is by far the most reliable source of healing in the relatively low magic world (compared to DnD) of Warhammer Fantasy.

Overall, Warhammer’s take on combat provides for a volatile and andrenaline charged sort of combat, with broken limbs, dislocated jaws and crunching kneecaps to accompany the screeching and panicked screaming of the Enemy. And no matter how badass of a knight you are, a group of peasants may still pin you down and stab you in the face. Awww yeah.

Addendum: I must comment on the shitty placement of the weapon tables and the fact that special rules for certain weapons are sometimes not mentioned in the description of the weapon. It’s a mess. Also, why are black powder weapons so fucking gay? At least give them some sort of armour-piercing rule or something. As written, the bow is superior in every aspect to the pistol, making its utilization a viable choice only for die-hard emulationists, would-be pirates or extremely stupid fuckers.

* = Yes it fucking does. Each point of armour increases the spell point cost of a spell by 2. Spellcasting while fully armoured is prohibitively inefficient.

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3 thoughts on “[Review] Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying 1st edition Pt. III: Blood for the Blood God

  1. Reading this concise encapsulation of the combat rules, combat seems less lethal than I remembered. Armor is pretty bad (insert naked dwarf joke), no real need to use it. I think the real difference in ‘feel’ between WHFR and D&D is the slow, incremental improvement of WHFR characters- they never ascend to the stratosphere, forever being vulnerable to any sort of mooks, be they peasants or snotlings.

    Also, I have to note that WHFR’s combat system is reminiscent of Runequest/BFR, though maybe less complicated. I never played much Runequest, but I dig the 2nd edition rulebook. There’s also that big ‘chaos’ connection, especially taking into account the broo/beastman similarities.

    And praise the gods for molotv cocktail and bomb rules (and the subsequent scatter dice).

    Ah, yes, this brings me back to my second RPG love (after ADD 1E): The Fantasy Trip. TFT started as the microgames Melee and Wizard, simple one on one combat games with point-buy chargen. TFT was a precursor to GURPS- characteristics were strength, dex, IQ, and movement. Characters were either adventurers or wizards (adventurers could buy spell for 3xIQ points, wizards could buy most skills for 2xIQ points, wizards could only use non-iron weapons or armor). Combat was resolved by roll-under dex, add bonuses/subtract penalties. Armor reduced damage but imposed a dex penalty. While most of the guys I played with stuck to the ‘Tolkien model’, I figured out early on that the system supported a gonzo approach, and quickly started playing mad chemist/thrown weapons expert molotov-chuckers. It was a lethal system, with strength equaling hit points as well as determining weapon damage- leveling up meant gaining one extra ability point, so the game was extremely lethal.

    You should check it out… there are PDF files out there in the wild. The game was ‘orphaned’ by corportate fuckery- the company owned the copyright, so the designer, Steve Jackson, couldn’t afford to buy it from his boss. He went on to elaborate on the system and create GURPS, but TFT just had more charm.

    I’d probably use TFT to run a ‘Warhammeresque’ game, but I would have to figure out how to avoid losing the charm of the ‘career path’ advancement model.

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    1. [Combat Lethality]

      It is mainly the exploding damage dice on every roll and the lack of a geometrically growing hit point cushion that gives it its reputation. The critical hit results actually make the game less lethal (and more fun!), and the parrying/Dodge Blow rules give an extra chance to evade a direct hit. You are dead on about the incremental improvement, which keeps things more firmly embedded in the drudgy realism and thus Dark Grimness (AKA VALAR MORGULIS) sets in.

      [runequest]

      I have heard this before and will verify it at some point surely. Some of the new Runequest shit looks interesting.

      [TFT]

      High lethality in games is good, but at the same time you want to emulate the source material and people dying too quickly will stop caring (see also my Carcosa Game, which I got up to 26 sessions before I made the switch to Lotfp, which turned out to be even more lethal. On the plus side, the Archduke of Prague will never see the light of day again). TFT sounds interesting but my big thing is learning curve nowadays. I don’t have as much time anymore to play games and thus any deviation from the tried and true must have some sort of USP or unique edge to make it worthwhile. It sounds interesting though, I might give it a fucking review. Or fuck it, you might give it one. Send it, or post it under your name or whathaveyou. I am interested.

      (may have secretely already found the pdfs in my close and personal friend’s library)

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  2. You are entirely correct regarding black powder weapons in the core rules: the defence would like to present, however, the excellent “Apocrypha Now”, among the many virtues of which is a revised set of rules for black powder weaponry (along with a chapter on non-human psychology which is one of the better ‘rulings not rules’ chapters the counsel has encountered).

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