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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Thoughts on RPGs, Warhammer RPG Campaign



Hello internet!

So I know that I go through quite a bit of gaming ADD, but my latest (or rather, reawakened) obsession is with the Warhammer Fantasy RPG (3rd edition). A while back I ran a mini campaign for three friends. They are used to D&D 3rd Ed as that is the only RPG they've played. None of them have had any experience in the WHF world and have generally played a rules-lite type of game, which I find perfect for me.

First off, I'll briefly go into my experience with RPGs. I first started with Star Wars RPG (about 2 editions ago). In my first session I was mostly corralled around as a newbie playing with my seasoned group. The only tabletops I played before that was 40k and board games.

Gamers (bless their hearts) are not always the best teachers. A lot of people get caught up teaching the mechanics of a game over the overall feel of a game. Had someone approached me and said, "RPGs are basically interactive stories, where one person creates the plot and you create characters to advance the story" then I would have had the context to understand how the mechanics come into play. Instead I was given, "You want a high dex. It helps you shoot."

So, I was off to a bad start. I found it very interesting though, when I was observing the other seasoned players and how they creatively reacted to situations. I was driven to understand how to participate actively, so I borrowed the core book and had a rudimentary understanding.

My first session was essentially a one shot campaign, as a lot of people can attest to a GM who starts off wanting to play then quitting after one session. I don't even remember what the plot really was. I just remembered I wanted to be a sniper and used a Vindicare Assassin as my stand in.

The next campaign went much better, however. A good friend of mine ran it as a DM and was much better and weaving a better plot. He used D20 Modern with a backdrop to the old Rifts RPG (a very good settting, by the way). It took place in futuristic Japan and I relished in the idea of playing a futuristic samurai.

We probably played 3 or 4 sessions and it was fun. So fun that I ended up buying the core set, about 3 expansions and ended up trying my hand at DMing a campaign. I did it simultaneously for two different groups and learned a lot about RPGs by jumping in head first. I've played a few other RPGs since then and can now see the difference between the systems and how it affects gameplay.



So, what are my thoughts on RPGs?

Well, at first I was confused, mostly because of my entry into the genre. How do you win? What is the point? What does anything mean?

Now that I'm more seasoned I understand that your entire experience relies solely on your GM. No ifs, ands or buts. Your GM has to understand how your group likes to play and caters to that, and (to me) the only way to properly satisfy your group is essentially liking to play like they do. If the entirety of the group doesn't play similarly it will be a difficult time to have a good session, simply because the combat monkey may be bored with story or the talker can't do anything with a fight heavy campaign. This is all territory that's been walked on before and there are numerous articles, blogs and books discussing this.

Another thing I've come to realize is that most systems cater to solving all your problems through fighting. I get it, in D&D you don't always have to fight, but most classes have combat oriented abilities and everybody wants to be the bad ass. Sure, I love being a tall glass of ass kick. But when everyone wants to be Daredevil I wanted to be Foggy. There are so many damn Boba Fett players but where are the R2s? I wanted to stir trouble.

(Again, keep in mind I know it's all about your group and GM, this is all from my experience alone and not a slight against anyone else.)


I realized that a lot of the times you play you're fighting. I would usually make strong fighters with the worst intelligence. I made barbarians who would nod when told how to proceed with the stealth plan then immediately kick the door in and generate face palms from my party. I made Jedi who cut holes in the hull then asked questions later (it worked out in the end). I generally made characters who would be competent in combat because I pretty much had to and only had fun with the roleplaying part by acting dumb.

Sure, it's possible to do whatever you want in a game. But how many people can say they've played a whole campaign of D&D without getting into one fight? A whole chunk of the rules is devoted to combat, and most classes contribute to it. How is every adventuring party so damn good at cleaving creatures in two? Is there no group of people traveling who don't know or want to fight at all? Just because you don't have combat doesn't mean it can't be fun, and I'm not saying you have to play without fighting for a unique experience. It's just that most systems inherently create situations where conflict involves bloodshed. Would a GM who's prepared a combat for the group be willing to let them talk their way out of it? Or simply run away?

Every group I've played with solves their problems with fighting, and every GM uses combat to advance the plot. Maybe the genre demands it. There are systems that don't involve combat, but that isn't really what I'm talking about.

Anyway, that was a long tangent on combat.

Generally, I want to be able to be the talker in games. I'm rather sharp on my wits and can create funny situations, but I've discovered it's much easier for me to be creative in the seat of a GM. I actually prefer to GM over playing a character, but it depends on the group. If I play with a bunch of min-max munchkins with a side of rules lawyer someone's not having a good time. Random dragons will pop up and the plot will be really quick so I can end my misery.

This thinking brings me to my second topic: Warhammer Fantasy RPG.



I fell in love with this game since I first saw the huge box. It was the perfect RPG for my tastes. I hate looking up rules in books, I hate bloated character sheets, I hate exact measurements and five-foot steps. D&D and other similar systems were rooted in this binary system of pass/fail and large amounts of math for something simple. You either hit or missed and the mechanics did not lend very much to story telling short of what a GM may add for flavor. The higher levels got ridiculous with the adding and subtracting, but most systems don't scale too well.

I also hate tables for things like conditions or wounds, or abilities spread out throughout several books. This game took those components and made them easier to digest for players (in my opinion). Instead of a player needing their whole book, or transcribing abilities from book to character sheet, you selected your abilities through cards and essentially made a deck of everything your character could do. There are tokens for your conditions like stress and fatigue, and cards for things like wounds and insanities. They flipped on its side what people thought of for RPGs, and most veterans scoffed at it. It's no longer in print now, but I bought into a while back and love it.

I'm not a die hard RPG player, but I want my experience to be easier than looking up references in books. Sure, the game didn't do everything perfect. If two players had similar characters you may end up fighting over ability cards. The rulebook is poorly laid out and confusing at times (although not impossible to decipher). Some of their products are just weird (like a mostly useless but pretty GM screen, or not creating a mini softcover book of the Creature Guide like they did with the GM toolkit). But for the most part it catered to my kind of group - one where the players don't have to crunch a bunch of rules to participate. It's all very visual, and I've taught this entirely new system to players who have hardly any RPG experience and it's sunk in like a board game (which is how they designed WFRPG).

A lot of complaints about the system are leveraged at using the components to relate ideas that other systems have successfully done with pen and paper. I argue that it's successful exactly for that reason! I prefer having a token represent my stress and fatigue than writing it down. I'd rather have a card with the rule for stunned in front of me than having to remember it. In my group most of the players don't know the rules that well, and having it in front of them makes it easier to implement, especially with abilities. I mean, in D&D a starting level character's abilities are all over the place even if they are in the same chapter in the same book. If I did play D&D again I'd put all my abilities on cards like WFRPG does to make it easier.

Enough about components!

Another reason why I love the system is the fact that most of the PC careers are mundane classes. A boatman? Awesome! A barber/surgeon? Sweet. A fricking commoner? I love it!

RPGs are so much more interesting when a threat comes through the forest and you fear for your character's life. Something imposing shouldn't have to take the form of some rare powerful creature like a dragon or giant. If a blood thirsty goblin came barreling at you in real life you'd shit your pants. That's what I want to feel in games. Sure you can be a badass, but you only have a real stake in a fight if it was one you'd be scared to partake in, otherwise it's not much of a fight.

There are the heroic classes, but for the most part when I saw them I thought to myself, "Man, I would not want to be that guy in real life." In a good way, like a way that would make your character feel interesting and grounded. Hero types from the get go make my eyes roll, I want to feel my character transition from a lowly human to something better.

I've always loved social characters. But who really wants to be the only bard in an all rogue party? Everyone's being all bad ass and sneaky and you play a damn fiddle. I'm not saying you can't have fun being a social character in RPGs. Let me put it this way: one way of dissecting RPGs is that there are two components to gameplay - combat and social. To fully experience the fun that can be had you should partake in both aspects. Now a combat character definitely participates in the combat aspect. He's kicking ass, taking names, and lootin' bodies. Now let's take the social aspect: in which he's intimidating these NPCs, he's using his rep as an ass kicker, he's thrashing around and can generally also partake in the social part using his combat stats.

Let's analyze the social guy. He's got a winning smile. Maybe a lot of money. How does he work with the two game aspects? In social settings, he's the talker and he gets things done... smoothly. In combat? He wimpers in the corner and is essentially ineffectual unless you min-maxed a combat oriented stat, basically catering to the combat portion out of necessity. Social abilities don't tend to affect combat situations nearly as well as the other way around. I've found that in WHFRP they have abilities that affect both aspects for a social player, and all it depends on is how you use the ability (recklessly or conservatively).

Anyway, I love the system. Next time I'll post logs on our past mini-campaign.