Combat in Warhammer Fantasy is a grisly and grim affair, no less lethal then any of the earlier editions of DnD, albeit with a bonus 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 aggravated 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 all but the most neckbearded of GMs. What IS interesting about this set-up is that the players get to place their characters before the battle commences, 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 dissimilar 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 decrees 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 you can’t simply move out of combat to make the hurting stop. Tapping-out before taking yet another round of S 8 attacks from Stein the Ogre 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 twixt 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 necessary penalties to make it situationally effective only.
An additional mechanism that makes the game so delicious is the Parry mechanic. 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 certain weapons are suitable for parrying, some give massive penalties.
Ranged combat is simpler. Some weapons require more then a round to draw and aim but in general, one needs a straight line and a BS skill roll to hit one’s target. Simply firing into a mob of creatures is incredibly easy (double success chance), but means your hits are distributed randomly across different creatures. Unless your character is proficient in the use of the Repeating Crossbow, you get a maximum of 1 shot per round. In a surprising twist, while blackpowder weapons remain unreliable, they are nowhere near as devastating as they would become in later editions. And praise the Dark Gods for molotov 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 subtract 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 up the two. Another six means you roll again, no WS check required. Exploding Damage dice, as god intended, give this game its reputation for its insane lethality. So far so simple. Missile weapon damage is not modified by any stats, but instead has a fixed strength.
Some weapons provide special 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 successful 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. Surprisingly formidable is the Net, which entangles a target upon a successful hit, meaning he counts as prone and everyone else gets to stick it in his face while he wrestles free like a dummy.
Armor is another departure from DnD. In Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay armor reduces damage, and its effect is cumulative. This means your chain (Armour bonus 1) stacks with your Plate (armour bonus 1). Being properly armored means an initiative penalty, and makes the game slightly slower, as each hit means a second roll on the hit location table (later on this would be folded into a single roll but whatever). 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 armor,
and it does not effect spellcasting capabilities in the slightest . Paupers who cannot afford manly metal armour must make do with leather armor, 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, as 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 (bonus damage is disregarded). 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 received 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 hemorrhages has a 50% chance per round of ending your fucking life) and, of course, INSTANT DEATH.
There are some rules for mounted combat, and getting your mount killed out from under you can have some serious drawbacks, but in general it is a every bit the advantage it should be, 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 injury. 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 of Warhammer Fantasy.
Overall, Warhammer’s take on combat provides for a volatile and adrenaline charged melee 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 armor-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.
1 = 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.