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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Meanwhile...

Well, I'm back. I've been on a trip which made regular updates impossible, so I just decided to take a complete break from the blog.

The trip has meant that I haven't done any gaming to write about, although I have been thinking about killing off 3 PC's in the last WFRP session. I had been commenting only a couple of weeks previously that I was feeling I’d been a bit too kind in my WFRP campaign because I'd only killed one PC in some 12 sessions. This was hardly the "grim world of perilous adventure" so popular among WFRP fans I was thinking.

The next thing I knew your basic random encounter- which I had included for the sake of a flavour of the dangers of travel in the post-SoC Old World; your basic bit of random violence goes and finishes off 3 PC's from a party of 5. I had been thinking of upping the threat levels of encounters a bit, to make the PC's feel the heat a bit more; but I hadn't been planning on wasting them with such alacrity. And the heroes have only just begun their journey to deal with a nameless threat of unknown magnitude back in Stirland near vampire country.

I know that being a 'real death' rpg is one of the peculiar appeals of WFRP. I can tell myself that I didn't set the PC's up to get whacked in some kind of no-win situation. And there is a measure of reassurance in the fact that the players were unusually unlucky with their dice that day. All the same, I still feel strangely squeamish about those 3 PC deaths even as I am well aware that I should know better.

I find this experience peculiar.

Struggling as I am with too many sentences beginning with "I", I find myself thinking that this unsettling feeling comes down to 2 things.
1. A worry that I was, in the end, unfair on my players in some way or another- something I can only get an answer to by talking this over with my players.
2. Another worry (argh!- I seem unable to escape sentences that all want to start with the same words today): that the first adventure of my own devising in my WFRP campaign will prove to be just too much for my PC's- time will tell I guess.

Still, these GM's worries aside, I did enjoy running the combat. I like the WFRP2 combat system, and am looking forward to trying out the d20 system with which it shares several key features.

One shared feature that I particularly like is the initiative system. What I mean to say is that I like the way that initiative is generated once and once only for each combat- instead of each round that is. There is one obvious reason for this: it makes life much easier for the players, the GM especially. In simple playability terms then, this is good design.

I like this mechanic for other reasons though. What I'm on about here is the feel that this approach gives to combat. Let me explain. I am a long-time fan of the HERO system. Some of my most memorable roleplaying has been done with this system. One of the key features of this system is its Speed (SPD) table. Without going into details, the effect of this on play is that everyone's actions in combat go in a sequence that is determined once and for all according to their SPD, with any variations according to DEX alone- fixed initiative in other words. As a PC I used to really enjoy making the most of the particular 'beat' my character's SPD brought to combat.

This is something that WFRP and d20's initiative rules bring with simpler mechanics, and a twist. The twist is the variation provided by that familiar old mechanic- the initiative dice roll. What this gives is a fixed beat for each combat, with variations in that beat possible in different combats. As I said, I like the fixed initiative mechanic because it offers interesting tactical options in play, based on exploiting the resulting 'beat'. The variation given by the initiative roll is nice because it introduces the idea of 'form', or good days and bad days: something players- GM or PC- can use to add to their character interactions in other words.

Ease of play; interesting tactical options; and grist to roleplayers' mills: that's quite good going for a minor twist on a venerable old mechanic, don't you think?
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