Monday, December 30, 2013

Play Report: Warhammer, Dec. 29th

Yes, I know I skipped the tremulus session on the 22nd. I'll get to that one soon enough. For now, I want to write about the Warhammer session we played yesterday:

Character creation:

Character creation actually happened on the 22nd, but since I didn't write that report yet, I'll go ahead and write about it here.

The process was a little bumpy, overall; I was the only one at the table with any knowledge of the game, and I had only read the rulebook once, several weeks ago. I was totally unready to make characters; my focus was on tremulus, but when that game ended early and we had a few hours to spare, we decided to get chargen out of the way so we could just focus on the game the following week. 

Once we knew what we were doing, the process was much smoother. Warhammer chargen is point-based, so it's really just about picking a bunch of stuff. In the end, we had four characters (J2 was absent for the session): a Coachman, a Student, an Apprentice wizard of the Bright Order, and a Thief.

The Adventure:

We played "Eye for an Eye", the adventure in the back of the GM's guide. This marks the first time in a very, very long time I've completely played through a module. I almost always write my own adventures. However, for the coming year, I really want to ramp up my gamemastering. I figure a way to do that is through running modules. All the time I normally spend inventing stuff can now be spent learning and refining stuff that's already been invented. It's a trade-off of creativity for quality. For now, I'll take it in favor of learning a new system. 

It didn't hurt that "Eye for an Eye" is a damn good adventure, though! The adventure is mostly a mystery; the PCs spent the majority of their time investigating the staff of Grunewald Manor, trying to address the lord of the manor's suspicions that something foul was afoot. The players did a fine job of investigating, splitting their time between unraveling the mystery and just doing good roleplaying (the thief had a memorable scene where he attempted to steal a painting in the gallery).

I'm not going to go into too many specifics here, so as not to spoil the published adventure, but overall, I think the adventure is solid, well-written, and easy to play and prep for.

Combat & Mechanics:

Warhammer's mechanics, combined with its top-shelf production value, is the main reason I even bought the game. And it lived up to the hype, I'm happy to say.

After a little class on what all the dice were and what the symbols on them meant, the players were assembling their dice pools quickly and easily. I kept a small stash of dice behind the screen for observation rolls (though I've got to remember in the future to record their observation skills so I don't have to ask!) What I love about the dice, aside from the refreshing lack of math, is that they actually contribute to the narrative. For example, the Thief rolled a bunch of banes with his success while inspecting the gate during the first encounter. So I gave the Thief some information about the gate and the wall and the guardhouse, but I then I decided that, because of the banes, his pre-occupation with the gate left him surprised by the beastmen ambush (which I translated into a misfortune die on his initiative roll). Nice, huh? In other RPGs, that mechanic simply doesn't exist: you either fail, or you don't. Is it necessary? Of course not. But, as a GM, any tool I can get that helps guide the story is a tool worth using. And Warhammer gives me a very powerful tool in these narrative dice. One of the only other systems I've seen do this effectively is my beloved Dungeon World. Anyone who's read a few of these blog entries knows my reverence for that game and it's kin.

As for the action cards...they pretty much worked the same way as powers in 4th edition D&D. The only difference here is, instead of cutting you lose to find your own solution to organizing those powers like D&D did (or trying to milk you for more money through their ill-fated Power Card decks), Warhammer gives you the tools right in the box. The same applies to the career cards, the character sheets, and the talent cards: they're all just really slick ways to track your character's stats. Like D&D, a blank piece of paper, a pencil, and some patience is all you really need, but these tools make the process a lot easier, and thus more fun.

One of Warhammer's unique elements that really impressed me, though, was the stance meter. It elegantly turns every roll into a tactical decision: go cautious and risk losing time, or go reckless and suffer fatigue or stress? And of course those decisions lead to yet more ways I can interpret a dice roll into the story. Brilliant!

Combat in Warhammer, if I was running it correctly, is swift and brutal. The PCs one- and two-shotted enemies left and right, and the few hits that the enemies landed on the PCs were significant and painful. The sanity rules came into play, too. By the end of the adventure, the Thief managed to shake out of his catatonia, but now the Student is permenently suffering from solipisim (the belief that everyone else in the world is imaginary, and that only she is real). As bad as I felt for L. and her poor Student, I greatly look forward to the roleplaying she's going to do with it. Warhammer, of course, even thought of that, allowing me to reward good roleplaying in an appropriate way through adding Fortune points to their party sheet. So even if her insanity makes her a liability, L. can always make up for it through good roleplaying!

Analysis and Final Notes:

Overall, I had a blast. This session was one of the best I've had in a long time. Warhammer is just a fun game to screw around with. It feels like Fantasy Flight Games just thought of everything, from the art, the look and feel, right down to the very logistics of tracking information, and just made it fun. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is a top-shelf RPG that is worth its admittedly steep price. 

Random notes:

-I want to be a better actor. Maybe learn to do a couple of accents. The adventure had a lot of NPCs I had to portray. L. is really elevating things with her roleplaying, and I want to match it!

-The great success of this game has made me think again about Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, a game I had written off as something I probably wouldn't touch again. I'm especially interested at looking through the rulebook again and seeing the exact refinements they made to the rules, lessons probably learned in the play of Warhammer.

-I have GOT to remember to either push the group to bring food, or plan for a lunch break. We were all scarfing down snacks like they were going out of style! And no one brought drinks, either! Tap water and fancy chocolates all around!

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