Thoughts about WFRP 4th

4th edition Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay was launched recently by Cubicle7 and I’ve recently joined an in-progress game. Learning a new-ish set of rules while playing isn’t ideal. It is darn enjoyable. This post is initial thoughts and grumbles.

TLDR = The complexity in the system is hurting it, and it needs to be streamlined; or given more streamlining options for when quick play is more important than the rolls.

For example the complexity in picking/assigning by race, then mechanics of use in fate/fortune and resilience/whatever points is daft. The points are present to allow a player character to help control the outcomes and fake-out their risks.

Why does this need two sets of points with two separate caps, with different choices for races, and choices to make at character creation on where points should go?

This design choice in 4th edition demonstrates how the mechanics of 2e were reworked from the inside of the system to create 4e, not rewritten holistically.

That’s a strength and a weakness in the system – depending on what crunch you like and how flexible the group is.

I’ll report many months from now when I’ve more than a handful of sessions done, however these are my first impressions:

  • Far better all round than WFRP 3rd edition, which I think was a misguided edition – much like D&D 4e we can pretend it didn’t really happen.
  • Better than 1st edition, which was great for its time but hasn’t aged well.
  • Better than 2nd edition, for now. If this edition does not get the love, support, and books that 2e has, then I think 2e will surpass 4e. I’m worried that Age of Sigmar is already distracting the product owners from more 4e content.

As a product the art style and polish in the graphics is excellent. Every career grouping has an illustration, and you really know you are reading a Warhammer product. I felt the same about the art and material presented by FFG for Deathwatch too – high quality presentation.

The audience of the new edition is certainly the players of 2nd and 1st, which is good and bad in terms of styles of game I tend to play. Many players are solid fans and I think they will like this. The challenge will be growing the playerbase with a better offering vs keeping the existing fans engaged.

The grim dirty and painful setting is present, and very palatable through the core book. However I think there is a missed opportunity to make WFRP more than just a 2e re-vamp – which is what it feels like to me. Everyone is a dirt eating scrub, again. Rare are the knights and heroes, especially when a class is recommended as a random roll. The system offers more flexible movement between classes of character, and seems to lean into letting players choose once play has started.

The system also lets a player choose, and gives a minor xp bump to those who take the random choices. This reflects the previous editions but I don’t think it makes sense as the default way to start a game because several randomly rolled classes has a lower probability of forming a useful group of characters, especially if group makeup will make a difference to the story.

Most “modules” assume the group has a mix of skills and talents, and rolling randomly won’t suit that. So why make that the default? Because early editions liked to make this selection random to reflect how shite life is for the PCs. If you like that then 4th will be ok too.

When generating my character to join the existing group I re-rolled on the random class table three times, as each choice didn’t suit the group. That shows how doing it randomly only suits some games, probably shorter ones. It certainly makes no sense to have attributes for a group’s motivation, when they are forced together without a story premise.

I know too the line – “if you don’t like it, then don’t use it”, yeah well that’s always true. What does the random choice say about the setting and mechanics? It’s a tribute to earlier editions. AD&D had a table for random classes back in the day, and I don’t think players who liked role playing used them often. IMHO.

I’m a fan of keeping the lore, going heavy into setting, and telling stories across those themes, however a huge issue I saw in all editions of Warhammer is the juxtaposition of character mortality vs campaign style games. Some people like playing unskilled peasants (I guess?), but I don’t feel like that is a way to build a long campaign, especially when the characters have very little to keep them from suffering terrible wounds and permanent disasters.

The characters should have the option to play or act heroically, however all the mechanics indicate that failure and pain will result from anything remotely risky, and nobody actually wants to be a hero in the setting. You’ll die. The message appears to be max out your combat skills, avoid combat, and be happy eating dirt and earning pennies. Grumble.

That’s really dull. If I wanted to play a boring scrub I’d play with excel spreadsheets. At present 4e feels like edition 2.5+e. It’s good, but if the GM had said “we play 2nd ed” I’d be just as pleased with my character, and would have had almost the same options in-play.

As there is no heroic stance in the 4th edition game, it means the only revamp is changes to the combat mechanics, which were odd in some ways in all the editions, and 4e has some things right, but a heap of things wrong. Such as:

  • the core rulebook lack clarity in rulesets, and has a layout that is disruptive. Its like the 1st edition AD&D DMs manual – a rat warren of rules, lore, side-bars, etc.
  • the expression and language is very unclear. (e.g. Crits on a missed defense check?, a table to summaries the each career paths/options is missing, no detailed combat examples which use a full range of the rules as printed, so many if-this-then-that-but-unless-the-other special rules).
  • the magic system is still just a 90s/2000s dnd system with some extra tables to look at, and a botch system. 2e magic was very limited without expansion books, and even with the extra books it still felt like a bolt-on that wasn’t really meant to be used. This feels the same. Such a missed opportunity – necromancers, chaos, bright-war-mages, all missing depth, but have a lot of complexity and risk.
  • The crit rules sit out of style with the rest of the combat rules, and the +/- percentages in the combat system slow the combat down. A major issue I’ve read about 2nd ed was how slow the combat was due to round after round of misses (which I don’t recall as an issue), but this game has sped up the hits while also adding a lot of math in each round. I mean advantage on top of rolls vs skill, vs opposed tests…
  • the roll d00, then reverse the roll to get location; count your successes or failures, then compare to the opponent, then check the physical roll result (double roll / divide by 10 / less than 05 / greater than 95?) which might change it again…ffs.
  • “Advantage” could have been far more thematic/story driven.
  • the complexity in fate/fortune and resilience points is daft. The points are present to allow a character to help control the outcomes and fake their risks – why does this need two sets of points with two separate caps? This is demonstrates how the mechanics of 2e were reworked from the inside of the system to create 4e, not rewritten holistically.

As a closing note – I’m also confused about what the newly announced and in development “Age of Sigmar’ is doing. It will use a d6 system, and is advertised on the WFRP 4e page, meaning that Cubicle7 are offering a new game with another new set of mechanics straight after the launch of WFRP 4e. That’s great but odd.

Why couldn’t AoS use the same system as WFRP 4e? Well it’s to reflect a more “heroic” style of play and to reflect the tabletop miniatures game. AoS is the hero rpg set so that player characters are already heroic when they get rolling (I read this on the C7 reddit thread so it must be true). So WFRP is for scrubs, and AoS is a d6 pool based game (Dice pools, yeah nah) for kicking arse.

I’m happy I bought WHFRP 4e, but worried that it was a little unfinished or perhaps focused away from what I more generally like.

WFRP book cover

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