A Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4e Review
Well, well, well. What do we have here? A review! But I never do reviews (well, almost never). Aye, but this is Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4e you rotten scob, so strap up, raise a tankard to Ulric’s finest, and get ready to prove your worth to the Empire.
But before we begin, a few disclaimers:
- This is a reading review of the “pre-order” PDF; ie no bookmarks, there’s some typos, it’s missing the region map, etc. It took a long time navigating the book without bookmarks, if they’re not in the final version, there’ll be hell to pay!
- I haven’t played WFRP before. Ever. My slate is clean, just like my Sigmar loving soul. I knew about it back in the 90s, but never checked it out; I think the Germanic names, prevalence of overly large hats, and naked mohawk dwarves put me off. Now of course I see that Chaos had tempered my vision, or perhaps Ranald. Either way, better late than never.
- This is going to be a bullet point “first impressions” review; mainly because writing a comprehensive review is too much hard work (and without a playthrough, of limited utility), but it’s also a quick way to throw some relevant info at you. Then the mob can decide for themselves whether they like the same things I do, or throw me down a well.
Yes, I see your pitchforks and fiery torches. But just steady on a minute. For those labouring under Slaanesh’s sloth, let me sum it up this way: I like WFRP 4e a lot.
Things I like
- The system is d100 roll under, and allows for degrees of success. Eg you might have Strength 41, roll d100, if you get 41 or less you break down the door. Roughly speaking*, for every 10 you beat the test by you get 1 extra “success level” (or SL), which improves (or worsens) outcomes. This includes combat, which is via an opposed test (both attacker and defender roll, whoever ends up with the most SLs wins). Each extra SL grants 1 bonus damage, which reminds me of Shadowrun, and the way even a knife in the hands of a skilled opponent can be deadly. I like unpredictable and dangerous combat, and the system promotes that.
(*Not exactly, you actually compare your tens die result against your tens attribute number, but you get the idea. Eg: if you roll 27, and your attribute is 41, you compare the 2 vs the 4, resulting in 2 SLs. Got it. Good!).
- The random character creation was pretty fun. I made Artur the Smuggler (5’3”, blue eyes, dark brown hair, yearns to one day be a river captain) totally randomly, and he worked out pretty well. Althoooough I would have liked some way to increase his melee ability (besides the limited 5 point bonus available for being human). The bonus 120 xp at the end (a reward for keeping everything random) didn’t really seem to make up for this. There are however a number of stages during the creation process where you can roll or choose, gaining a bonus 20-50 xp if you stick with random. Next time I would choose my career (forgoing 50xp) to lock in a more martial character.
- PCs have a relatively low number of Wounds (hp). Artur actually got lucky and ended up with 12, which I think might be almost max for a starting human. From what I can tell, to get more wounds you would have to increase the relevant attributes (Toughness, Willpower, Strength) or take the Hardy talent (which incidentally seems very strong). Considering an Orc does 8 base damage (less the victim’s Toughness Bonus + Armour), Artur had TB 3 (derived from Toughness 36, your tens digit is your stat bonus) and 0 armour, I expect this will keep the game dangerous for a long time.
While on stats, there are 11 core characteristics: Weapon skill, Ballistic skill, Strength, Toughness, Initiative, Agility (acrobatics, dodging, etc), Dexterity (fine motor skills, picking locks, etc), Intelligence, Willpower, Fellowship and Wounds (hp). Familiar enough to anyone who’s played 40k (which I have).
- No levelling up in the D&D style. Instead you get approx 75-125 xp per session, and spend it between sessions to improve your attributes, skills and talents (eg increasing a starting attribute costs 25xp for 1 point, or a skill 10xp for 1 point, for example to increase your WS from 41 to 42). I love constant rewards in my RPGs, and “session advances” in particular. Big tick from me!
- Money f*cking matters! A lot. I love and hate this. OK mostly love. Artur started with a dagger and 12 coppers. 12. Coppers. A sword costs 1 gold, which is 20 silver, which is 240 copper (uughh I hate the conversions, just make it 1/10/100 already!). But point is, my adventurer is going to be doing it hard for a while until he earns some treasure, when he can (gleefully) buy some armour and better weapons. That feels very gritty and non-magical to me, fitting right into the hard bitten, destitute vibe of the setting. Excellent Smithers. I imagine a new party will be stripping everything from their foes for a long time, but hey, how is that different to starting parties in most games? I know some folk dislike how rich adventurers become in their campaigns, and although I have yet to see any 4e adventures, I expect gold levels will remain low to keep PCs hungry.
- Non-magical healing is limited. No automatic full refresh overnight. You can get consumable healing draughts (heal 3 wounds, 10 silver, and are scarce ie 90% chance of being available in a city, 45% in a town), and resting overnight. Overnight resting restores about a quarter to half of a starting PC’s wounds, BUT importantly requires a check. That’s right, fail the check, heal nothing. I think this is a very smart move, and will make every wound feel like a genuine loss, making players think twice about combat. This will also make wilderness treks and city adventures (with combats few and far between) meaningful, instead of nova/rest/repeat affairs. Long D&D style dungeon delves might be more difficult, but ruins of smaller compass should be fine. All in all this suits me perfectly (as I prefer short episodic adventures), but I can see the drawback if you love mega dungeons, for example.
- The Critical Wound tables by Hit Location are GOLD. Crits happen when you hit with a double roll (eg 11, 22, etc). The results range from a minor setback (eg arm 1-10: drop whatever you’re holding) to severe (arm 94-99: lose hand or arm, or 100 death). A quick glance at the various tables reveals actually losing a limb, or dying, is rare (generally 94+ on d100). Broken bones that take weeks to heal however, not so much.
- Although it’s easy to be damaged, and the chance of a persistent injury is ever present, it’s actually pretty hard for a PC to die. You need to be zero wounds (hp), and have more critical injuries than you have Toughness Bonus. Since most PCs will start the game with Toughness somewhere in the 20’s or 30’s (ie TB 2 or 3), that means you’ll need 3 or 4 critical wounds before slipping your mortal coil. Putting critical hits to one side, this pretty much means you need to be reduced to zero wounds 2 or 3 times before you’re at risk of dying. At first I thought this was too generous, but on reflection, I think it will work well. PCs will tend to survive the early fights, with the risk of death ramping up as the adventure progresses, which is desirable. Certainly anyone on their last (potential) critical wound will feel very vulnerable (an unlucky double and they’re dead). Add to this the accruing of persistent injuries (torn muscles, broken limbs, etc), and you’ve got a genuinely gritty and dangerous survival game.
- “Advantage” is an interesting combat mechanic (a kind of rolling momentum you can build up, adding +10 to your attack chance if you continue to hit and don’t take damage yourself. Note it accumulates; if you hit 3 times and don’t take damage yourself, you will have a +30 bonus to hit). More hitting = Quicker Combat, which I approve of. On the other hand, if the enemy gets a lucky run, your PC could be in serious trouble. I also like how advantage enables Disengaging (if you have Adv, you can give it up to automatically withdraw from your current melee).
Edit: I didn’t appreciate this at first, but note that per p.259, even if the attacker and defender both fail their attack/defence rolls, as long as the attacker does better than the defender, they still hit. Example: Say both parties have WS 40. Attacker rolls 60, defender rolls 90. Even though both “failed” their rolls, in terms of SLs, it is -2 SL vs -5 SL, which means that relatively speaking the attacker wins by 3 SLs. If the base damage is 7, they do 10 damage (less target’s TB and armour, as usual). Given this is the case, I suspect adv/momentum is not needed to avoid the “whiff factor” of 1e/2e (which I understand used to be an issue). A reference to the p.259 opposed rolls explanation would be handy on the combat page (p.158/9).
- Related to Disengaging, I like the chase rules for the most part. The GM allocates an abstract distance and characters make checks to close/widen the gap, with optional improv complications. Quick and simple. A table of example complications would have been nice. The probabilities will breakdown for larger groups (as you compare the best roll of the pursuers vs the worst roll of the runners to determine whether the gap widens or shrinks), but you could just cap the number of rolls equal to the number of people on the opposing side (or just hard cap it at say 3).
- The art is amazing. Boom.
- Magic is broken up into lower and higher power spells (eg Blessings vs Miracles), and is unpredictable, which I love. Firstly, you need to make checks to use magic at all (reminds me of Mystics from Dragons Warriors). And even if it works, you need to look out for doubles which indicate a miscast – invoking the Wrath of the Gods (divine magic) or the Winds of Magic (arcane), each with a table of setbacks and dangerous effects (inc death). I especially like that restoring a wound via divine magic can only be done if the target is above zero wounds, and the Blessing requires touch. Yup, there’s no sign of whack-a-mole healing in the Old World. No raise dead magic either. Praise be to Morr! This is how magic should be.
- Corruption (both physical and mental) are terrific and underscore the feeling that the PCs are the underdogs, fighting to hold back a power greater than any mortal enemy. Befits the setting, and easily removed (or toned down) for other settings if you want to take the system elsewhere.
- I think the basic fluff of the setting is excellent. A grim and gritty world to be struggled through and rallied against, secret cults to oppose and dangerous wilds to explore; good stuff. The Gods, with their strictures and penances, are especially evocative. I don’t know anything about prior editions or what lore has been left out in this book. I suspect a very great deal. But for my purposes, it’s terrific, and frankly I don’t want to be laden with past canon.
What I don’t like
- Too many careers for my liking. Do we really need 64 different advancement templates regimenting the way xp may be spent by quarantining skills and talents? I think most of these could have been wrapped up into broader themed packages.
- Related to the above, there are too many careers with no way to increase their combat skills/attributes. I don’t imagine they would survive adventuring long? Unless you can advance racial skills with xp (for humans this includes Melee (basic) and Ranged (bow), in which case, ignore this complaint!). I mean, I know you can swap between careers, and that is a fix, although that costs extra xp…
- I can’t tell if you can stack armour? Can my PC wear a skull cap 1, chain coif 2 and helm 2 for a total of 5 armour on his head location? If so, in combination with Artur’s Toughness Bonus of 3, he would reduce most damage by 8, which is a lot. This needs to be made very clear in the rules, as it would reduce the dangerousness of the game (albeit it would cost a fortune to get 5 armour on all hit locations). ALSO I don’t like the rule about losing an armour point to negate a Critical Wound. No, no, no! That is too easy of a get out of jail free card. Maybe if there was a check involved. Maybe.
- As presently written, Ranged weapons are just better than melee, and reminds me of Shadowrun melee. A ranged attack is unopposed, as I understand it, making it muuuuch easier to land, and to achieve more SL’s, AND can be performed from a safe distance. If the Dodge skill can be used to oppose ranged attacks, things aren’t so bad (although Dodge is not available to all careers, perhaps not even most, I didn’t check), but still… a mistake, balance wise, imo for a sword & board game. I note Breath attack says Ballistic skill vs Dodge? But is that just an AoE thing? In any event, if Dodge is intended for use against Ranged weapons, that needs to be made crystal clear in the final text (preferably with an example).
- The Fortune and Resolve pools refresh too often (at the start of every session). Fortune is used to reroll a failed roll, add +1 SL, or change initiative. Resolve is used to remove a condition, or ignore Psychology or a critical wound’s effects for 1 round. The prevalence of these automatic get out of jail free cards dilutes talents/abilities that do the same thing, and (for me) undermines the dangerousness of the game.
- Fate is straight up too strong; you can spend it negate death and escape a battle, or negate an attack entirely. You simply choose when to do it, no roll required. This is far too safe and predictable. Maybe if you had to make a last ditch 50/50 roll or something, it would be ok. Additionally this pool should never refresh (barring some super rare event).
- Resilience is too strong. Ignore mutation, ok, but turn a failed test into a number of your choosing; eg choose 11 for auto critical wound! By the Chaos Gods Nay! Being able to automatically buy such success cheapens it when it happens naturally. Get thee back, devil!
- Not sure about set initiative order (by Initiative attribute). I would have preferred a simple Init test (not opposed), ie if you succeed, you go before the monsters, if fail the monsters go before you. Quick and easy, yet mixes the order up a little.
- I don’t see any magic items in this book. Da hell? Also the bestiary is short. More books on the way, no doubt, but still.
- Weapon+x damage notation is confusing, it looked like a beastman did weapon+7 damage, not 7 damage. Why not just write it Damage 7?
- The currency conversion rate is super annoying (1 crown = 20 silver = 240 pennies). Even the designers apologised for it in the book.
- The Difficulty Table for unopposed tests is weird. Average test is +20 on a check? Why not just increase everyone’s baseline attribute by 20 instead (ie start with 40+2d10?). The modifiers are -10/-20/-30 for adverse difficulties, yet when things are easier the bonus is +20/+40/+60? What gives? Indeed, why even have a +60 at all for “very easy” (just rule the PC does the thing without a roll).
- Weirdly, in the playtest fights I did, it was better for my smuggler to not attack first. Instead, if the Orc or Goblin attacked first (with a hit chance of 35% or 25%, but they missed, Artur got Advantage (giving him +10 on his next attack, boosting his 32% to 42%). Feels counterintuitive.
Overall… I like WFRP 4e very much!
Will the final PDF be worth $30… uughh maybe. I think it’s steep for a PDF, but it is full colour, 345 pages, and a big brand IP with cool fluff. And the amount of fun you’ll get out of it could be huge. On balance I feel like $20 would be more appropriate.
The mechanics underscore the grim and gritty theme, magic is unpredictable, and fights feel dangerous (ignoring the armour loss rule, and Fate/Resilience). I think the setting is intended to be low to moderate magic, which I prefer. Persistent wounds are going to be common, PCs don’t turn into superheroes after a few levels, and gold will be keenly prized. Surviving in the Old World will be tough, but characters that prevail will have earnt their victories, and exult in them.
I’d place 4e towards the higher end of crunch. There are a lot of careers, talents, skills, tables and sub-systems to get your head around, and some of the writing is (currently) a bit unclear (eg armour stacking, are ranged attacks opposed, can I spend XP on race skills or only career skills?). In actual play however, the roll under system will be straight forward (subject to modifiers), and particularly easy for players to understand (want to do something uncertain; roll d100, lower the better).
As a GM however I would definitely want a good GM screen with the right short cuts: list of skills + associated attributes, crit table page numbers, combat modifiers, Miscast tables, DC modifier table, all the good stuff I need at my fingertips.
So get onto it C7. I’ve got WFRP 4e to play!