Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thoughts on the upcoming Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Game

I have only been in a handful of Warhammer Fantasy campaigns, but I do have fond memories of them.  The games I played all used the Hogshead Publishing version of the rules, and I should note that I enjoyed them despite the rule system.

I did buy the updated version of the Warhammer Fantasy game that was published in 2004.  While never had an opportunity to play or run this version of the system, I must admit I liked the new rules.  The game designers streamlined a lot of the mechanics that used to bug me in the old edition.  More importantly, they kept their hands off the career progression system, which I always liked.  They also reworked the magic system, something I thought was necessary.  I was impressed with this edition and thought it was a good update of an old classic.

After awhile the covers of all Fantasy Roleplaying Games start to look the same.So despite not being a huge Warhammer Fantasy player, my interest was definitely piqued when I heard a new version is going to be released by Fantasy Flight Games.  Would it remain close to what had come before it or would it blaze a new path?

Just looking over what information has been released so far, I am guessing that this new edition will be at least as divisive among fans of Warhammer Fantasy as Dungeons & Dragons 4E was among D&D players.

It costs how much?

The first point of contention will likely be the price.  The core boxed set retails at $99.95.  Now, you get a lot in this boxed set including 4 rulebooks, 30 custom dice, 300 cards, and three “character keepers”.  Honestly, for everything you get, this is probably a fair price.

I still see a lot of players balking though.  At this point it doesn’t look like there will be a version of the core rules available outside off the core set.  This is probably because Fantasy Flight Games expects that only one copy of the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay set will be purchased per group.

Specifically, the Fantasy Flight Games website says that the core set is best suited for one Game Master and three heroes.  Why is this the magic number?  Primarily because the boxed set contains enough careers, party sheets, and action cards to support three players. 

So what do you do if you have more than three players?  Well, that is what The Adventurer's Toolkit is for.  This supplement will additional careers, party sheets, and action cards for the game.

So I suppose whether or not $99.95 is too much to pay for the core set depends on how you look at it. If you look at the boxed set as a group purchase, it is actually cheaper than each player and game master buying just a Player’s Handbook apiece in D&D.  The problem is, while this paradigm is accepted in board games like Talisman, I see many traditional RPG gamers balking at not having their own copy of the rules.

What do you mean I need special dice?

Another change to the new edition of Warhammer Fantasy is that it uses its own specialized dice set.  According to Fantasy Flight Games website the game uses a new task resolution system that provides more information and flavor than just whether you hit or miss.  Rather than having numbers, these dice have various symbols that appear on each face.  There are more than thirty custom dice included in the box set.

The new system sounds innovative.  I also enjoy that you can choose a stance that is either reckless or conservative that will affect you roles.  Still, I imagine custom dice will rub a lot of people the wrong way.  Some common concerns I see being raised:

  • Since the dice use symbols rather than numbers, there will probably be a learning curve while the players learn to interpret them.
  • Some players grow rather attached to their dice, and they will not enjoy having to use ones provided by the Game Master.  Even if they embrace the concept of custom dice, they will probably want their own set.
  • Dice also have a bad tendency to get lost.  Maybe the cat bats a set under the couch or your three-year old takes them to a friends house on a play-date and they never return.
  • Some players don’t like to carry around a lot of dice and prefer games that only use one kind of die.  Since the last edition of Warhammer Fantasy used only d10’s, there may be some players of this type among its adherents.

Hopefully Fantasy Flight Games will sell these dice separately and not only as part of the boxed set!

Not more freaking cards!

One common complaint I hear about D&D 4E is the use of power cards.  These players believe that power cards are a perversion of the D&D rules and a sign that Wizards of the Coast is trying to turn D&D into Magic: The Gathering.

Well, it looks like Warhammer Fantasy will be embracing cards more than D&D 4E ever did.  The Boxed Set includes over 300 cards for use with the game.  Per the Fantasy Flight website:

“You can quickly reference the full-colour action cards to see what your abilities and innate skills can accomplish, allowing players to spend more time focusing on the task at hand. From spells, blessings, and attacks to social gambits, and reactions, and acrobatics you will have the actions you need to tell your character’s tale.”

I personally don’t have a problem with cards, since I think having snippets of the rules on the cards does cut down of players needing to flip through the book.  However, I know some players who hate cards with a passion.  To them, seeing action cards “infect” Warhammer Fantasy is an abomination of the first order.

This isn’t Warhammer Fantasy anymore!

I imagine this will be the biggest complaint from some longtime Warhammer Fantasy players.  The 2004 release of Warhammer Fantasy was much closer to the previous version than D&D 3E was to D&D 2E.  Despite this, I still know some hardcore Warhammer Fantasy players who won’t make the move.

This new incarnation of Warhammer Fantasy seems far enough from the previous editions that it makes D&D 4E look old-school by comparison.

I see this being a real problem for some Warhammer Fantasy players.  If anything, I have found them to be more set in their ways than your average D&D player.  If you think about it, this makes sense.  D&D is by far the market leader in fantasy roleplaying games.  If a Warhammer Fantasy player didn’t enjoy the Warhammer Fantasy rule set, there is a good chance they would just be playing D&D.

Parting Thoughts

Looking at the cover art, they are certainly emphasizing the “Fantasy Roleplay” part and de-emphasizing the “Warhammer” part.  This may be a sign that the primary marketing push is not going for the traditional Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay player.

The fact that they are adopting the board game paradigm of “one box for multiple players” is also interesting.  I really am not sure if this will gain acceptance among traditional gamers, but at least it is something different.

On that note, I found it interesting that the website specifically addressed “quick and easy cleanup” as part of the design.  Specifically it mentions:

“Inside the Core set are three character keepers designed to hold everything your hero will need each session. From your dice, actions cards, and character sheets to any wounds, items, or skills your hero acquires, you will have a convenient place to store everything after a session.”

Once again, this sounds like the concern of someone used to playing board games rather than traditional roleplaying games.  At least among the groups I play with, concept of players leaving the characters behind in the box after a session is a bit foreign.

So what do I think?  Well, I would definitely love to give it a try at some point.  I am just not sure if I will love it or hate it when I do!


DocShaw said...

Yeah, no.

If I wanted to play Heroquest, I would play Heroquest. Or Warhammer Quest. Or something.

I for one will be sticking to WHFRP 2e. If the new thing is your cuppa tea, have at. I ain't by a country mile.

Medraut said...

@Doc_Savage: "If I wanted to play Heroquest, I would play Heroquest."

I believe your reaction will be the most common reaction among people who have played previous editions of the game. In fact, although I tried to be as fair as possible in the post, I definitely am leaning that way as well.

I do have an interest in playing it at least once. To me, this is something I would love to play a demo of at a convention, but unless I am really wowed I imagine I will not be picking it up.

Unknown said...

well, I'll give Fantasy Flight this; they've got a set on them.

Traditionally, games that require a specific nonstandard dice set tend to be extremely cliquish at best (see Bloodbowl for the best example of this) & spiral out of from there. While wanting to have a modified variable on your success or failure is nice, implementing a new dice pattern seems a bit high maintenance for that. The same thing can be accomplished with a side chart & secondary roll along with any action check you're attempting to provide a bit of flavor to your roll. Or just use your imagination in describing your strike (something A Hero has done to great effect in games)

As for the price point, it still seems a little steep to me, even considering the amount of stuff on the list. Mainly, that's in regard to the fact that some of these items they're bundling in are consumable (character record sheets). I mean, the last thing that was foisted on gamers at the hundred dollar price point was the World's Largest Dungeon. While I managed to sell a couple of those when working at a game store, they're definitely not for the faint of heart. Even asking a group to split the cost, it's a bit of a chunk to put down at once.

I do feel for Fantasy Flight in this. Ever since they ostensibly merged with Games Workshop, they've probably been looking for plenty of things to start producing with the blessings of their new Overlords. While their card department has been hanging in there with UFS, Kingdom Hearts, their other card games, I can't imagine that the RPG market is showing such a generous room to maintain their footprint in the market.

It's a wierd stance, because it definitely does seem to be trying to market itself towards the Board Gamer market that's been developing slowly over the past few years, which have taken the 'go big, no seriously, go BIG or go home" attitude. The number of 80+ dollar board games that came out in the last year & a half of the game store I worked at's lifespan was a little disturbing. But this seems to not quite jump that hurdle, & I think that might rankle too many nerves to make it hang around too long.

Medraut said...

@Tim: "it definitely does seem to be trying to market itself towards the Board Gamer market that's been developing slowly over the past few years, which have taken the 'go big, no seriously, go BIG or go home" attitude."

I didn't think of this, but the price point and contents of the box are really similar to the "go BIG" board games.

As a side note, I couldn't help but notice the similarities between design of the career cards and the class cards in Talisman (also currently produced by Fantasy Flight Games).

Scafloc said...

Ironically, about two weeks ago my warhammer crew tried out a boardgame called "descent." It was essentially Talisman, but incorporated a lot of the same ideas that went into 4e D&D. So much so, in fact, that I occasionally got the two mixed up. Where descent is a roleplaying game trying desperately to masquerade as an RPG (right down to the fact that one player is the dungeon master even), I think the new warhammer game might be the other end of the same thing... a boardgame masquerading as an RPG.

Scafloc said...

PS: anyone notice that all of the various 40k rpg's tend to flare out in a matter of a few short months too?

dave said...

I don't think Fantasy Flight is owned by Games Workshop. They licensed the game from GW.

Unknown said...


in a way, you're right. But what occurred was Fantasy Flight & Sabertooth Games(whih was owned by Games Workshop) merged, consolidating their CCG divisions under one house, but GW is mostly still the big dog at the table.