Warhammer Fantasy is, first and foremost, a setting that revolves around tales of bitter and ultimately hopeless struggle against extinction. It comes as no suprise that much of this struggle takes the form of a literal struggle, with swords and knives and whatnot because medieval violence is both gritty and allows for personal heroism to turn the tide of war in a plausible manner (perfect for PCs). It is not neccesarily a game ABOUT violence, but violence plays such a large role in it that to omit it from the game to a substantial degree is to gut it and leave it to bleed out on the floor, doomed to a slow but inevitable demise.
It should come as no suprise that much of the equipment section in WFR 2e is concerned with means of killing things and preventing things from killing you. But first, let us start out with the basics.
The game starts off by adding an optional encumberance rule that is based on your strength score and not much else. Strength * 10 is how much you can carry, take -1 to your movement with every 50 points above that. What are points? We know only that a single point is equal to 10 coins. However, it is optional, and the default treatment seems to be to hand-wave it, which is perfect.
Fans of the oblique Crowns -> Shillings -> Pennies coinage system with its annoying counter-intuitive exchane rates may rejoice, for it remains in full effect (and is accompanied by a short side-bar on Old-Worlder Slang for money, which I find an admirable attempt at fluff). Sample monthly wages are provided for different classes of citizen to give you some idea of value (should be a standard feature in any campaign setting).
As in 1e, merely having enough cash does not mean an item is actually available. Each piece of equipment has a rarity, which combined with the size of the settlement determines your chance of obtaining any given piece of equipment. Unlike 1e, succes is not determined by a flat percentage chance but by the Gossip skill, meaning your characters can actually get better at obtaining gear, a NON-TRIVIAL advantage, particularly in very small settlements. Since items can also vary in quality, you can always opt to buy shittier quality gear, which is also cheaper (whereas masterwork weaponry of the best quality can be challenging to find even in major cities).
On to the weapons themselves. The equipment section has been kept more or less the same, albeit with a larger group of weapon specialties. All weaponry does d10 damage plus or minus a modifier. A list of qualities is provided to add streamlining and to differentiate weapons beyond simple damage. Unlike the previous game, weapon type
no longer affects initiative and hit chance. However, weapons can be fast or slow (affecting one’s chances of succesfully dodging or parrying an attack from such a weapon), have Impact (meaning you get to reroll damage and pick the highest one, HUGE), unreliable or experimental (jamming or exploding on a critical fumble), entrap or ensnare foes or increase your chances of stunning someone.
The weapons rules represent what I feel is an overal improvement over the 1st edition, especially black powder weapons have been beefed up to what they should be (formidable but expensive, unreliable and dangerous devices). Weapons like the flail and the lance are Tiring to use, meaning they have the Impact quality but only on the first round, a mechanic I kind of like. My only points of criticism are the treatment of polearms, which has been simplified to making them hard to parry only, with any simulation of their reach dissapearing over night and the lack of rules for incindiaries, a staple of medieval fantasy gaming as far as I am concerned.
As far as interesting additions to the overal arsenal go, the highly experimental Hochland rifle and the Repeater Pistol, in whose use only the Engineer advanced class is trained, are kind of awesome. The repeater is, simply put, a pistol or musket with six barrels. FUCK YES. A weapon that is also likely to see much use is the Blunderbus, which deals its damage in a cone to anyone who fails to make an agility test and can be used without penalty (reloading takes very long though). There is a reason we eventually switched to Black Powder and this is fucking it. Everything else kind of adds up, two-handed weapons have the Impact quality but are easier to dodge, off-hands may be used to carry a shield (great for parrying) or off-hand weapon for an extra attack (or a free parry if the weapon is defensive).
Everything is sort of balanced, an extra attack seems nice but against heavily armed opponents it can be far more effective to land a single decisive blow vs multiple weak hits for example. The only point that I really hate is that polearms are no longer very good against mounted opponents, WHY NOT?!? The Garotte has been stripped out but I suppose several of these specialist weapons will make their return in the inevitable arms and equipment guide.
Armour rules have been simplified, with a single suit covering all hit locations being the default rule. Fans of the old system (i.e everyone) are given the option to use the stackable, piecemail armour rules that seperated the original from its Dungeony and Dragony counterpart. Versimilitude has been improved considerably while the armour rules have (again) been simplified. Leather gives 1, chain and plate give 2 if you use the stackable armour rules, otherwise plate is (naturally) far superior and you pay more for a full suit. Shields no longer count as armour (but do make it harder for you to get hit by missile weapons).
The rest of the equipment section is about what you would expect and, while sufficient, does tend to be a bit dry. Lists of prices for food, clothes, a nice assortment of booze (neccesary since water in this day and age tends to be of shit quality), containers, lighting and misscelanious adventuring gear, not that different from what you’d find in a DM guide. The rules for getting shitfaced are nice (and I should look into ways to use those rules more often) while the starvation rules are serviceable. You will be pleased to know that the rules for starvation and dehydration are identical, meaning a healthy adult adventurer can easly go without water for at least a week without dying. Critical results for when you run out of wounds as a result of starvation are not discussed but I am sure the GM can figure something out.
The rest of the equipment section is about what one would expect, prices for everything from Destriers to hiring the services of a stagecoach. What does provoke a spit-double take is the ready availability of the healing draught at the bargain-level rate of 5 crowns per draught. The damage is limited, fortunately, because of the way Warhammer Fantasy tracks damage (in both editions). Wounds are very easy to heal if you have more then 3, when you count as Lightly Wounded. Drinking healing draughts heals 4 wounds, medical attention heals d10 and so on. Not so when you are heavily wounded, and healing draughts do nothing. The addition of Bugman’s Ale, an elixer that renders the imbiber fearless (a must if one is to confront the various horrors in Warhammer fantasy) at the considerable risk of rendering the imbiber BLIND STINKING DRUNK is awesome.
I also liked the poison section. Dnd always seemed sort of hesitant to give the players access to Poison by simply never mentioning it but WHF just makes obtaining it very hard, applying it a specialist skill (failure means a wasted dose or worse, you get poisoned yourself) and the effects have been simplified considerably from the rules in 1e, at the cost of versimilitude. Poison is now binary, i.e, it works or it does not, and additional doses merely mean a new toughness test to avoid the effects. They tend to either inflict additional wounds or to outright kill someone/put them into a coma. The addition of the addictive Crimson Shade drug and rules for Mad Cap Mushrooms in case your party dispatches a group of Night Goblin Berserkers are nice additions, but the poison section has been gutted considerably.
Another bizarre addition to the equipment section is the Healing Poultice. At the paltry cost of 5 pennies, any character treated thus is treated as Lightly wounded for the purposes of a heal skill. And it has no Encumberance value!?! What were they smoking?
The section ends, appropriately, with a list of prosthetics like peg legs, hooks, eyepatches, wooden teeth, gilded noses and so on, which sets the mood for things to come. The equipment section is alright, but I can’t help but feel that the Warhammer I fell in love with has been pussified somewhat.
I said I’d cover combat in more detail and I will. The omnipresent streamlining and categorization (i.e general rules covering a broad spectrum of situations instead of specific rules for specific events) that is characteristic of modern gaming is telling here. The complicated facing, flying and mounted combat rules have been stripped down until they are almost eradicated altogether. Actions have been neatly divided into Half actions and Full actions. The +10 bonus to WS for winning the combat each round has been stripped out, which is too bad. In another weak ass move, melee combat no longer means you are glued to your opponent or risk taking an attack in the back but instead you may Disengage at the cost of a Full Action. Morale has been replaced entirely by the Fear ability, though I should point out that you still gain 1 insanity point each time you take a slug to the face.
The NUMBER of possible actions during combat HAS increased significantly however. Rules have been added to cover offensive or defensive fighting, feints, maneuvering an enemy in a certain direction and so on. With missile weapons it is possible to take a half action to Aim your weapon, increasing your chances of landing a hit.
Even provisions for Two-weapon fighting have been added and they are realistic and actually good and thus we would never see something like them again in a game. Having an extra weapon in your hand means you can make an attack with EITHER hand. It does NOT give you an extra attack. It DOES mean you can parry as a free action 1/round (normally you have to spend half a turn getting into a parrying stance). It only works with certain weapons but it can certainly be an asset, though nowhere near the overpowered nonsense skill tree of two-weapon fighting in most games. A point for Warhammer Fantasy.
An interesting trade off between melee and ranged combat is that melee attacks are generally more damaging because of the addition of the STR bonus to damage but they may be dodged or parried, whereas missile weapons may not.
Another point for the combat rules, the exploding damage dice rules have been kept but are now D10’S BITCH. Ulric’s Fury! The exploding damage dice rules make any weapon with the Impact rule (i.e 2-handers and blackpowder weaponry, extra-super specially dangerous, as god intended). As a final charitable handout, WHF understands that your time is limited and thus provides a simple sidebar where several modifiers to combat are covered in a single sentence or less. They are sensible for the most part. Hitting someone who is outnumbered is easier, dodging whilst on the floor is hard, parrying a giant’s club is almost impossible etc. etc. No wasting your time here.
Optional rules to speed up combat are also given, allowing one to eliminate hit locations, enable sudden death critical hits (i.e a flat 50% chance you croak if you are out of wounds with each hit) and everyone getting an extra half action because fuck it. While there is a provision for stunning opponents by hitting them on the head, the game mentions nonlethal combat (i.e fisticuffs) but no means of adjucating it, which feels a little rushed. The grappling rules provide some means of immobilizing a foe, which is nice, but as it stands they are overpowered since there is no penalty for attempting a grapple against an armed combatant, which makes no fucking sense. Adding an attack of opportunity mechanism would have been nice here.
The injury rules have not significantly altered from their 1e predecessors, for which we may praise Sigmar. Combat in Warhammer Fantasy is a blood-soaked, mud-spattered, bone-crunching mess of dented helmets, severed limbs and internal hemorrhaging. After you run out of wounds, excess damage is expressed as a number on the critical hit table. The randomness of the old game has been replaced with a more deterministic system with fixed results. 1 or 2 points of critical damage tend to result in lost actions, stunning, getting knocked prone or dented armour while anything above 6 tends to result in arterial bleeding, crippled limbs (with a chance of permanent mutilation) and anything above 8 means instant death. To prevent combat from turning into a comedic sort of cripplefighting, all critical hits received after a crippling result are covered by the Sudden Death critical hit system, meaning 1-5 points is ignored, 6+ means instant death. The harshest nonlethal critical hit can result in being paralysed from the waist down. OH Warhammer how I love thee. It is noteworthy that in Warhammer Fantasy you cannot really be knocked out. You are either capable of combat or dead.
While combat will be the primary cause of death for your poor dumb shmucks, there are other ways to get your shit ruined. Fire is particularly dangerous, and is far more potent then it’s watered down 41st millenium equivalent, ignoring all toughness and armour once someone is set ablaze. Diseases are still a fact of life in Warhammer, though they have been watered down somewhat to accomodate the smaller balls and wimpier disposition of the modern gamer. Diseases like the Bloody flux (known in Altdorf as the Rumster’s Revenge and contracted by eating cheap halfling pies) and the Kruts represent little more then an inconvenience, whilst the Green Pox and Neglish Rot can be absolutely lethal and permanently debilitating.
Overall, I am not sure how I feel about the combat section. The added complexity should make for interesting and more varied skirmishing which is, let’s face it, going to be a staple of most if not all Warhammer Fantasy games. I feel most of the systems have been cleaned up, but the omission of the +10 for the victorious side rules, the almost total absence of mounted combat rules and the weird, unbalanced grappling rules require some errata or good old houseruling to pave over. I hesitantly give the combat and equipment section a mark of “Superior to the Old game,” for added tactical depth and equipment optimization wankathon shenanigans, while staying more or less true to its roots. I can’t wait to murder myself some Beastmen.
EDIT: I forgot to cover another major change that represents yet another major increase in Character survivability. Characters gain a number of “Fortune Points” equal to their fate points. These points may be spent each day to reroll a single skill or characteristic test, gain an extra parry/dodge, gain an extra d10 on initiative or perform an extra half action. Since the average bear has between 1-3, that is a lot of rerolls EACH FUCKING DAY. This rule represents a major shift in character power and a departure from the grimdark dying-in-the-mud playstyle of the 1st edition. Hoo boy. I understand why you would prefer the old game.