[WFRP] Chasing The Hobbit Wedding

edited February 2006 in Actual Play
This is a followup to my SA+WFRP=Doom post from a bit ago, and also to a blog post from last year talking about successes and failures I've had as GM in the past.

To sum those up briefly: I love me my rules-light combat and adventure games like Marvel Super Heroes and Savage Worlds and Star Wars and C&C and so forth, and I also love games like Burning Wheel and Riddle of Steel that have excellent narrative meat under all their seductive sword-sauce. I've been wanting to take advantage of the powerful player-engagement techniques of those game while still getting my old-school kicks. And I've also not got the energy to recruit and sell people on an unfamiliar game; I've done game evangelism in the past, and I'm worn out on it.

In my circles in Seattle, for whatever reason, we have a number of Warhammer Fantasy Role Play afficiandos, so when it came time for me to scratch the GM itch and pitch a new game, I went in that direction. For those who haven't played it, WFRP is a fairly traditional human-elf-dwarf-hobbit fantasy game with a dark, almost Cthulhu-ish vibe. I love its brutal grittiness and muddy stakes. And the character creation system makes for lovely strange bedfellows in the party -- you can have ratcatchers adventuring alongside squires and garbage pickers studying to become priests. It's a refreshing change from the chrome armor and niche protection of D&D and its ilk.

Tonight was Session 0, for character creation, setting chat, system demoing, scheduling, and what have you. I have five players, though only four were present. These are all gamers who come from pretty traditional gaming backgrounds, and who have old gamer habits. All have the traditional "my guy" boundaries when it comes to characters, and all appear to expect a strongly GM-driven scenario. I pitched them a starting point--the immediate aftermath of a sack of a major city by those evil Chaos forces--and this was adopted by the group without modification. I wanted something strongly Warhammer flavored, and the quest for survival and escape--or, perhaps, ratlike prosperity--within a sacked city seemed like a good scenario. Plus, it was a decent opportunity to jam them all together in a basement as they sought shelter from the ravening Chaos horde, so we had a nice, organic "you all meet in a tavern" moment.

But I've learned that a starting point isn't enough--I've had campaigns with fun starting points flop on me before. This time, I wanted to have a direction to go in, and hints as to how to engage the players. So, with RoS and BW in mind, I bolted three extra player-driven things onto WFRP.

First, Doom. To explain Doom, I have to explain Fate Points. These are essentially extra lives that a player can spend when their characters need to miraculously escape mortal peril. These are an extremely precious and limited resource, and earning replacement points is entirely by GM fiat.

A character's Doom is composed of two of Who, What, Where, When, or Why. When characters opt to face a peril pertaining to their Doom, they can't spend a fate point to escape that situation, but if they face it and live, they receive a new fate point. They also receive bonus rerolls during Doom scenes, so that if they do go down, they'll go down like badasses.

To ensure there wasn't any actor / author firewalling confusion amongst these old-schoolers, I ruled that characters are fully aware of their Doom -- they receive visions as part of their coming of age rituals. So the players don't need to be feeling guilty about racing towards their Doom (if they've got no Fate points, and thus, nothing to lose), or running away from it (if they have FP's, and thus, something to lose.)

So that's Doom.

The second bolt-on was Career Planning. See, WFRP has lots and lots and lots of occupations for characters to practice. Thes describe exactly what the character does to make ends meet. You don't have mere fighters; you have Trollslayers and gladiators and mercenaries. You don't have thieves; you have outlaws and highwaymen and second-story men and cutpurses, and so on. And there's many lovely marginal occupations like bonepickers and grave robbers and rat catchers and agitators to spice things up, each with lots of story potential and color. (Sadly, the official adventures usually fail to use this power, but that's a gripe for another time.)

You roll a career randomly when you start. After you go as far as you can in that career, you can pay some XP and choose another career. Each careers comes with a set of game bennies -- skills, talents, attribute increases, and so forth--so choosing careers in WFRP is a major gamist deal, akin to choosing a feat tree in D&D. WFRP has loose rules that encourage characters to make a logical progression in their careers, so that cutpurses move onto other criminal occupations and gladiators move to fighterly jobs. The penalty for violating this rule is pretty mild, however.

With that in mind, I told the players that if they preselected their second career , they could have it at a reduced XP cost when the time came to move out of their first. The players all jumped at this, and now I know the general direction they want their characters to go in.

Finally, there was some pretty standard stuff: I gave them some bonus XP for telling me what they were doing the day before the city fell, and more bonus XP for bringing in a figure of their character. I love playing on a map with figures. They all took me up on this.

So now I know each character's past, future, and fate. Lindara the Elven Trade Envoy wants to be an innkeeper and will die while dancing with hobbits. Klaus the Bonepicker wants to be a priest of the death god Morr, and will die with the undead on the water. Thurgrim the Dwarf Noble was drinking himself silly at a masquerade ball while the Chaos armies knocked down the walls, and he wants to hone his skills as a Duelist--but regrettably, fate has decreed that Thurgrim will die at the hands of his own people. Two of the characters aren't complete yet, although one will die with only the will-o-wisps to mourn him, and another was escorting nobles in escape plots up to the very end.

Just right there, I have nine story elements that will draw people's attention. I'm hoping that when one of those elements pops up, the player will be energized by the warmth of the spotlight on their neck, and I'm hoping that when I manage to wrap two or three of them together into a single scene, that there will be explosive and bloody climax.

I feel better-armed for this game than for any other game I've ever played. And there was this lovely moment when it all crystalized for us. When we were talking about Lindara's Innkeeper future and dancing hobbit doom, someone cracked, "uh-oh, guess who's hosting the hobbit weddings!"

We all laughed and oohed, but it wasn't just a funny ha-ha gamer moment. It felt to me like something had been launched.

Comments

  • Vroom.

    I have good feelings about this. Please keep us posted with more actual play reports.
  • edited February 2006
    How many books is WFRP? How much for the main book?

    johnzo said:

    First, Doom. To explain Doom, I have to explain Fate Points. These are essentially extra lives that a player can spend when their characters need to miraculously escape mortal peril. These are an extremely precious and limited resource, and earning replacement points is entirely by GM fiat.

    A character's Doom is composed of two of Who, What, Where, When, or Why. When characters opt to face a peril pertaining to their Doom, they can't spend a fate point to escape that situation, but if they face it and live, they receive a new fate point. They also receive bonus rerolls during Doom scenes, so that if they do go down, they'll go down like badasses.

    To ensure there wasn't any actor / author firewalling confusion amongst these old-schoolers, I ruled that characters are fully aware of their Doom -- they receive visions as part of their coming of age rituals. So the players don't need to be feeling guilty about racing towards their Doom (if they've got no Fate points, and thus, nothing to lose), or running away from it (if they have FP's, and thus, something to lose.)

    So that's Doom.


    I may just adapt this for my upcoming Fate game. It even has the same name for Fate points :P
  • Another question on my mind is, "Is there anything About WFRP that I'd like, aside from its setting?"
  • Mark:

    The WFRP main book lists at $40, and if you're looking to learn about the Fate Point mechanics, that's all you need. However, if you actually want to play WFRP, note that several topics only get rudmentary coverage in the main book. In particular, the in-book Bestiary is very scant. So that's another $30 the GM probably needs to splash out for the Old World Bestiary supplement.

    The Bestiary is a terrific work, btw, with the front half entirely given over to folklore and academic descriptions of the various beasties. I haven't really perused the other supplements.

    Vaxalon:

    I dunno. What kind of things do you like? :)

    The WFRP reviews at rpg.net will cover the features of the game, pretty much. This one in particular has a strong grasp of what the game's about, and has a funny line about halflings to boot.
  • John:

    Okay... I'll rephrase.

    Is there anything that WFRP does better than any other game?
  • Fred,

    In terms of pure, dumb mechanics, WHFRP has the only hit-location system I have been able to tolerate in recent memory. Other than that bit (which has dubious value), I don't know that WHFRP does anything in particular absolutely better than every other game, but it certainly does have a certain role to fill.

    I think of it as a bridge game. Conventional roleplayers who are into D20/GURPS/whatever can buy into it. It has certain structures (such as fate and fortune points) that make it palatable to many who have given up on D&D. The startup time in terms of character creation and rules-learning is very low, reducing the entry barrier to new gamers.

    I've only played it a few times, though, so I don't really have the practical experience with it to tell how it stands up to extended actual play.
  • Here's my take on what WFRP does, and what it does well.

    The core rules are a very simple percentile system that typically has a good sized whiff factor. This is somewhat ameliorated via fortune points (a reroll resource). The new edition has jazzed up the combat slightly to give it slightly more of a D&D tactical feel, but nothing excessive. So nothing special here.

    There is however some good attention to linking the mechanics with the desired color. This takes forms such as a frequently invoked critical hit system that produces limb hacking and arterial spray, a magic system that features dangerous side effects and creeping decay, and strongly featured rules for disease.

    The standout for me is the way that the career system of advancement seems to cause players to embed their characters into the world and society of the game, rather than standing apart from it. To me, one of the most brilliant little bits is that entry to a new career is dependent not only spending the requisite experience points, but also gather then "trappings" associated with that career. For example, a merchant might require a house, fine clothing, and a monetary investment, while someone who wishes to be a wizards apprentice must acquire books and potions and such not. This sort of thing is often done implicitly in other games, but WFRP makes it part of the rules.
  • btw, it was rafial who came up with the Fate Point / Doom connection, so thanks to him for that.

    And I agree with him that the mechanics' chief strength is that they are in good harmony with the flavor of the game. Aside from that, they're nothing special, and the celebrated critical hit system is a two-table job that's a tad cumbersome in play. WFRP's chief strength, for me, was that there were players ready to play it, and that it appears to drift nicely towards the kind of play I want.
    The standout for me is the way that the career system of advancement seems to cause players to embed their characters into the world and society of the game, rather than standing apart from it.
    Most of the WFRP adventures I've seen start off with "The players are hired to..." or "The players, while travelling," There's little support in the rules for how to integrate these wild n' wooly player groups, and there seems to be an assumption in parts of the WFRP text that careers are set aside while adventuring happens, which is a shame, because they're such a potent source of cool stuff.
  • edited June 2006
    ((Sorry to thread-resurrect, but this answer came to me in the middle of the night, and it's going to bug me til I say it.))

    What WFRP does better than any other game is it's own setting. While I can, in theory, imagine using another game* to run something in that setting, the simple answer is I wouldn't want to do that -- the professions and such just carry the flavor of the setting so well, that I'd simple feel like I was wasting a readily handy tool. I mean, if I felt compelled to run something that setting, that would be the system I'd use. Period.

    * - TSoY could do it and capture the species and cultures very well, but it still wouldn't have that professions crunch. Thought, maybe with a more prerequisite -based list of Secrets. Hmm...
  • Doyce,

    It would need different lifepaths, but I think Burning Wheel would make for a hell of a WFRP game. Even though the dwarf and elf lifepaths aren't like the WFRP ones, the feel of the game makes it a successor to WFRP (which was one of my favorite games) much more than WFRP 2nd, in my opinion.

  • Agreed, Clinton.

    Chaos Taint would make for a wicked emotional attribute too.

    Damn, now I want to go burn up a Priest of Sigmar with a big ole hammer.
  • Dammit, you guys are going to make me shell out for the whole BW enchilada, aren't you?
  • Is Doom a standard thing in WHFRP or did you pull it from somewhere?

    Either way, how does a player define their Doom? GM fiat, roll on a table, make it up, what?

    So does the person who will die "dancing with hobbits" apply the mechanical effects of Doom to every situation with either hobbits or dancing?

    MDK
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