I have been a fan of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (published by Games Workshop) since I was a kid. It was one of the first games I ever bought (I believe it was my third), and my first fantasy game. I really liked the dark, grim setting, even though what was presented was a pretty poor representation of the Warhammer world. I didn’t realize just how cool that setting was until I started with the Warhammer Fantasy Battles wargame in high school.
I never played it much, though it was always in the back of my mind. I found the mechanics a little too complex when I was younger, and so it always had that stigma, even when I was more experienced and probably would have been able to run it with little or no problem. When Green Ronin and Black Industries published a 2nd edition, I was intrigued, but since I was involved in other gaming activities at the time, I didn’t pick it up until recently, and even then, only skimmed through it. It seemed to include more of the rich and fantastic setting than 1st edition, but still seemed quite lacking to me. There was just so much more in the world than what was detailed, so much more you could do!
At GenCon this year, about a week ago, details of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd Edition, to be published by Fantasy Flight Games, were announced. This time around, the system has been completely overhauled, with many unique concepts that, while intriguing me, sent many fans into an outrage. The game would be a boxed set (once the norm, now a rarity in RPGs), retailing for about $100. Included in the box are over 300 cards for skills and abilities and such and over 30 custom dice. There are also cardstock pieces for the various careers, or character classes. This all makes it seem very much like a board game, as opposed to roleplay.
In Fantasy Flight’s video coverage of GenCon, they included a snippet from the seminars where 3rd edition got its most in-depth run-down. Unfortunately, the video only really included the guy saying that all the new mechanics were tools to help facilitate roleplay. Wow. Completely underwhelming.
Earlier today, though, Fantasy Flight released an edited version of the entire seminar, which sheds a lot more light on the subject. It’s broken into five parts for convenience. If you are at all interested in WFRP, I highly recommend you watch the entirety of it, and keep as open a mind as you can.
One of the things that really stuck out for me, was the removal of Halflings as one of the four primary playable races, and the splitting of Elves into Wood Elves and High Elves. Finally! Nothing against Halflings, but they’re meant to be a pretty small population in the Old World, and I couldn’t really see 1/4 of the adventurers being Halflings. And the distinction between High and Wood Elves is one of the things that really frustrated me about the previous editions. There’s a bit of flavor in those books that seems to indicate that they’re talking about Wood Elves, but it’s never very clear, and there’s virtually no mention about the difference between them, except for where they come from. This is a long overdue development.
Learning more about the components found in the box, I see where the board game fears come from. WFRP3 uses a lot of tokens and cards and various other trappings you can find in the types of board games that Fantasy Flight also publishes (some of them quite amazing, by the way!). But stop and think about it. They are all there to make things easier. You don’t need to flip through a book or two to find the rules for being blinded in a fight. You just hand the player the appropriate card, which tells him everything he needs to know. When the effect wears off, you turn in the card. And if you don’t want to use the cards, by no means do you have to. You can look up the rules in the book, just like any other game, if that’s how you want to handle things.
The cardstock careers had me a bit worried, until it gets explained that you keep them next to your character sheet (not instead of) so that all the information you need is right at hand. Everyone in the party leveling up? No need to wait your turn for the book so you can see what options are available. Every player has all the information right there in front of him.
Having to play with the dice that come with the set put me off a bit. But I knew they (and the core mechanic they represent) were at the heart of what I needed to know to make my decision about this game. Turns out, I like what they’re doing with them. When you make a roll, you form a dice pool out of various kinds of dice. You get dice for your skill, for how cautious or reckless you’re being, luck or misfortune, and even dice for the difficulty of the task. One roll tells you whether or not you succeed, as well as some other details (like whether the action took longer than planned because you’re being too cautious), and even hints at other events that may have helped or hindered your character.
This core dice mechanic is the most important thing to understand, and it’s described in the fifth and final part of the seminar video. I think 3rd Edition is worth giving a chance, and I’ll definitely be looking into this as more information becomes available, and I think it’s quite likely that I’ll buy it when it comes out later this year.