Sunday, August 23, 2009

WTF?! WFRP3... & FTW?

An otherwise fruitless trip last week to the big F in Glasgow's FLGS- Static Games, netted me some news which frankly had my mind reeling in horror and tooling me up to join an internet mob of torch-and-pitchfork-wielding heresy hunters. I refer of course, to FFG's announcement on August 12th of the impending Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd Edition (all rumour of which had completely passed me by). My entire vocabulary of superlatives distilled into ichor would barely summon the merest whiff of my rage, instinctive and despairing, at another oh so typical corporate betrayal in the face of which I was already brewing vituperation and vitriol (all sight unseen, naturally enough).

Kenny, Static's proprietor was pretty astonished himself. Telling me of reports from the FFG WFRP3 seminar at Gencon, he explained that this was going to be a completely new system. What? Why? What was wrong with WFRP2 (except that it wasn't FFG's own product, naturally enough)? We both agreed easily that WFRP2 was an exemplar of how to do a new edition well, and that it had been successful and popular. We discussed the issue at length and I left, none the wiser but determined to remain true to the prejudices awakened by my spasm of geek rage.

Ever the intrepid blogger I decided to beard the lion in its den, where I found the videos of those WFRP3 seminars. First impressions threatened to awaken that slumbering daemonigeek:
  • It's a big box game- well I guess that's unsurprising from FFG, the master of the big box boardgame in today's adventure games industry.
  • As well as 4 rulebooks it's got lots of cards and other 'playaids', making it look immediately like a WFRP version of FFG's Descent, which regular readers will know I like: the obvious idea - "Oh no, it's just a boardgame in disguise!" - passed surprisingly quickly; but inevitable thoughts of previous failures in this regard could only serve to strengthen my attachment to the good old pencil and paper.
  • Talk of custom dice by the dozen and an immediate expansion to add more careers to the paltry 30(?!) in the basic set did indeed harden my disdain.
  • And on top of all that, it's going to cost a staggering $99.95.
I'm sure dear readers, that with no difficulty at all you can recall moments when your own veins of cynicism were similarly opened up and you could just smell the turds incoming. Of course- as you'll find out if you watch the videos, this thing is just so damn different that it rapidly became irresistible out of sheer geek curiosity. That's not all. The simple fact is that I think this might actually work. If it does, I can see no good reason why it won't be the biggest thing in RPG's since D&D all those years ago. That grandiose statement is nothing more than an echo of the vision presented by Jay Little in that seminar.

Some examples of why I find what FFG is doing is so intriguing:
  • As well as each player having their own PC each party has its own 'character' too (cf. video #3)- the players choose these according to the particular mix of PC's in their party; different kinds of parties have different ranges of talents over which the use of the players must negotiate; each party also has a party tension attribute which can be manipulated to dramatic effect.
  • Talents and special manoeuvres are handled by what is called the 'stance system' (cf. video #4); this gives each PC a range on the caution/rashness scale; by shifting up and down this scale players gain improved chances of success or enable talents and special manoevures.
  • The game uses dicepools based on custom dice; these generate far more information than success/failure or even just degrees of either; they can also generate, eg. delays: that is to say dramatic-narrative content.
And what is it about the apparent functionality of these systems that has made me swallow my ire and prepare to shell out whatever $99.95 will come to once it has crossed the Atlantic at probably the most expensive time for buying imported US product in the history of the adventure gaming industry?

Well for example, it could solve a problem that has perplexed roleplayers for over 20 years: namely how to handle time- eg. deadlines, dramatically. What FFG has done should probably work because they've taken the action out of the old clockwork time sequence which sooner or later enforces an unrealistic micromanagement playstyle; and they've turned the whole thing inside out so that when it counts, time is determined by dice rolls in respect of which players can make real decisions, including resource management, eg. fate points. In other words, they are approaching the problem with a line of methodological abstraction echoing that used by Courtney Allen in Up Front, and by Chad Jensen in Combat Commander and Fighting Formations. Regular readers will understand why this design approach excites me so much.

It's nearly 3 years since I last played WFRP. I've been thinking about getting back to my little Old World ever since, naturally enough. So you can be sure that WFRP3 will be getting a tryout at my table, and that you'll be reading about it here at RD/KA!. All in good time. ;)

- A Rash of Enthusiasm... for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay
- A parcel of rogues...
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