When I was a young lad there seemed to be two games you could play for your fantasy role playing needs. This was before the massive explosion in games in the late eighties. Sure there were more games about apart from those two but these were the ones that seemed to have the strongest support. Dungeons and Dragons (in multiple formats) and Warhammer Fantasy Role Play. I played both of these games but the one I probably played the most was Warhammer. It suited my likes of a gritty, simple system where every fight could be your last. Monsters were monstrous and non player character’s (NPC’s) were down and dirty. I never followed the game once the late 80’s caused an explosion in the available games but I always remembered the game with fondness.
Interest piqued again
Last year someone over on Google Plus told me that Cubicle Seven were working on the fourth edition of the game. This was interesting news as I really like Cubicle Seven’s work with the Doctor Who game. Then toward the end of the year I was in a game store in the south of the state and I picked the book up and held it. It was too expensive for me to buy at that point ($99 Australian Dollars) so I had to put it back. That contact though birthed a nostalgia in me. The cover was so similar to the cover of the game I used to play, and a flick through the book also caused that nostalgia to burn.
I was not aware of how hot it burnt until I saw a post on Facebook where someone had made a character. They talked about the process, what they liked and did not and so forth. I knew then that I had to own the book. I rang the store and asked them if they could mail a copy. They could and the day after the book was sitting on my doorstep. I paid a lot for this book and after having finished reading its contents I have mixed feelings about the game.
It is truly a beautiful, hefty, tome. Three Hundred and Fifty One full colour pages laid out in a way to elicit that nostalgia. They literally talk about them wanting to create that nostalgia in the presentation and they have done themselves proud. It truly is a throwback to my childhood gaming, in the best possible way. The artwork throughout the book is plentiful and evocative. You certainly know that you are playing Warhammer with every piece of art in the book. Each character presented has a great heroic bent to them with a dark undertone. It is a thing that seems unique with this game.
There are misses in this though. I am a 45 year old gamer and the font is extremely small. I found reading this game a hard task. It on occasion would cause eye strain and I would have to walk away. I imagine this was to keep page count down, but it is something that you need to consider if your eyesight is not what it used to be. The other thing I actually hated was the supplied map. It is inside the front and back cover and it is far too busy. It focuses on the Empire with some other insets. There is no way to really reference where things are, so you read something in the book and then look for it for over an hour because it is just too hard to find the references. At the start of the book they talk about the city of Marienberg a lot, and a trip to the Warhammer wiki after much frustration showed that this place is not even on the supplied map.
How I love this section of the game. I love random character creation and this game not only offers random creation but it mechanically encourages it! Sure, you can make all the choices and pick the character you want as well as point buying attributes and the like. But if you do it randomly then the game gives you experience points! You can spend those points straight after creation and be that little bit more advanced because of it. This is one of my most favourite things about this game. Congratulations on building the game this way.
Overall the character creation system is pretty simple. You have a species (Human, halfling, dwarf, wood elf or high elf), then you get a Class that contains a career path (the character I got rolled the Warrior Priest Class which started me as a Novitiate on the career path). Once you have that you choose some skills and some talents, grab your kit and set your social standing and you are pretty much ready to play!
The game utilizes a percentile system, just like it did way back when I first played it. What is new though is the use of skills to me. In the version I used to play you would attempt to roll under your statistic. With this game that may still happen but what is more likely is that you add a value of a skill to a statistic and attempt to roll under that. That roll can be modified for a number of things including difficulty. For example if my Warrior Priest wanted to recall a specific part of a sermon given by Sigmar he would use his Lore(Theology) skill of 5 advances as well as his Intelligence stat to combine for 36 percent. Being a Warrior Priest of Sigmar though makes this a standard test with +20 to difficulty meaning this novitiate is going to succeed more often than not with a 56 percent chance.
Levels of success
The system also looks at how well you do, introducing success levels (SL) into important tests. There are several options on how to determine them but the one I like (and is the standard rule) looks at the difference in the tens digit of the die roll. So in the example above if my character rolls a 37 on the test then the difference between the target number tens of the test (5) is +2 (5 from target number 3 from actual roll). So I glean a little more from the test. This is also how opposed checks work. My priest swings his warhammer with a target number of 39and gets a 27 for a +1 SL but the Beastman I swing at rolls an 11 to dodge against a target number of 35 gaining +2 SL. Comparing the SL of both tests gives us our result and the Beastman dodges my blow.
There are also criticals to consider and I really like this method. Any roll that is a double is a critical! Simple and quick. If it is under the target number then it is a critical success and if it is over the target number then you are looking at a critical fumble. The actual effects of these differ based on the test type. If it is in combat then you get to roll on the critical tables after determining where you hit, or if it is a non-combat test then you get a huge boost in success levels.
The game is pretty straight forward in its mechanics and while they play with bits and pieces of the old rules they feel familiar. However this is the modern day and so the game tries to integrate other ideas into the game and I feel these attempts fall flat. Lets first look at the idea of advantage.
There is a mechanic in this game and I feel it plays a lot like the idea of momentum from the Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of RPG. The idea is that whichever side is getting the upper hand has this momentum that assists them in the battle. It works technically differently in Warhammer than Conan but the idea is the same. For each point of advantage you have in a battle, you get +10 modifier to the target number. This also swings the other way, so it is good when you are on a run but if your opponent starts building it then you can be in trouble. My problem with the way this works is that it is individual. In Conan this mechanic causes the players to work together and from a shared pool while in this game it is everyone for themselves.
There is not too much to be worried about with opponents building up too much momentum. Warhammer has a statistic called resolve that allows you to automatically win a test (as long as you have the points to do it) and if a test is failed all your advantage is gone.
There is a mini downtime system included that allows the players some agency of what happens between adventures. Conan also has this and does it far better. Both of the systems have a similarity in that they say once you get through downtime you are completely broke having spent all your hard earned wealth. I hate this idea in both system but both systems allow an action to be used to hold onto coin. That said, the Conan system has a wide range of random events that can happen in the down time that gives the player some subplots they bring into the next adventure at times. Brilliant system that adds colour to the game. While this exists in Warhammer it is extremely limited in the number of random things that could happen. I could see that after a couple of games people will be rolling the same events and getting super bored of the whole thing.
Where the game truly shines
In this area it always has also. Combat is not friendly in this game. Your character can walk away the victor of a combat with permanent injury that will have to be overcome for them to progress. Criticals happen in combat a lot in this game. 10% of all rolls in combat will statistically be a critical of some form. Every time that a critical is rolled a chart is referred to and a result rolled. Very few of the options on the chart are friendly to your character. They can range from minor inconveniences, to broken or amputated limbs to immediate death! They could also leave you with festering wounds that later become diseased, which again may lead to a very quick death.
Warhammer is a gritty game where you must deal with injuries, wounds and diseases regularly. It may be an ignoble death to have an open wound that turns septic but it happens in this game. You have to consider treating wounds and effects from critical hits immediately so your character can live for the next battle. This style of game can be polarizing but there are mechanics to be able to avoid these instances. But if you want a friendly game where your hero shrugs off the pestilent bites of the diseased demon, play Dungeons and Dragons. It believes a sleep or quick rest pretty much overcomes everything.
Overall, from my read…
I have enjoyed reading this book. There are some things that I feel are weak but the game is still very solid where it matters. It delivers those nostalgic feels for the players of the old versions and brings a solid fantasy game to the table. The setting material was long, boring and frustrated me when I had to turn to the map but my recollections of the system was not really the setting. I am sure some people will love the setting but I look at this just from a fantasy game perspective and it delivers the style of game I love. A game where consequences matter. Your character can be corrupted and driven mad, or killed in a bar fight by a lucky blow. To me that means you have to role-play your character with sense. A snotling (less than a goblin) can kill the greatest hero with a lucky roll and so you better evaluate every opponent in light of that knowledge. I am going to run a one off soon of the game and I will report back my feelings of the game after a play test! Keep rolling.