Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Pushing WFRP through the Storm

I may have mentioned in the past that I play roleplaying games, and that I run a game of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (WFRP), which is the roleplaying spin-off of the Warhammer Fantasy Battles (WFB) miniatures game. This post is a rules thing for that, reconciling disparate plot elements resulting from changes from one edition to another. Allow me to give a lot of boring background first:

The mini-players have a lot of background material (known as "fluff") to enjoy that doesn't really alter their game rules in any way, and a lot of it is thanks to material prepared for WFRP. WFB was launched in 1983 and WFRP in 1986, so there was a lot of overlap between the two, chronologically and in terms of staff, for a very long time. But, they did eventually drift apart quite sharply. WFB was up to its 6th edition when WFRP's 1st edition was officially killed in 2002, and the WFB writers had already started ignoring some plot directions from WFRP that the mini players didn't like or want or need or whatever the justification was. When WFRP 2nd edition was finally released in 2005, WFB was nearing its 7th edition and individual armies had already progressed the setting's plot a lot on their own. So the WFRP2 designers decided it'd be safest and easiest to set their edition a decade later than the 1st edition's default starting point of 2512 (by the Empire's calendar). This fitted neatly with the latest WFB fluff's "current" year of 2522 or 2523. And since the WFB fluff up to that point had revolved around a major war called the Storm of Chaos, it was decided that WFRP2 would be written mainly to fit the post-Storm of Chaos period, giving it a slightly post-apocalyptic feel.

If your campaigns are short and unrelated enough, none of this should pose any problems. You can run your WFRP1-era game, then stop it and start a completely separate WFRP2-era game, and nobody will mind. Thing is, the reason I bring all this up is that my campaign's turning out to be an unusually long-lived giant, one of the longest campaigns I've yet been involved in. We started in March 2010 and it's still running, with over 40 sessions played. And while we're using the WFRP2 rules, I've been drawing on classic WFRP1 campaigns for my story (primarily the acclaimed Enemy Within series). And if this carries on long enough, I may want to transition to WFRP2 material, which of course is written as if it were 10 years later. So I see four possibilities:

1. Treat the WFRP2 stuff as if it weren't in the future. This is a problem, as several prominent non-player characters are supposed to be earlier non-player characters' children and other such logical progressions. I tried blending the timelines in the other direction once (making all the WFRP1 stuff seem as if it fitted in 2523), and it's a massive pain, as making each conversion is a small pain but there are lots of them, there's always something you'll miss, and it does seem like a waste of lots of clever multi-generational setting material.

2. Intentionally draw a big, artificial dividing line between the earlier and later campaign series, forcing players to create new characters for themselves and forget their old ones. This seems like an unfortunate waste of established characters.

3. Find enough filler-plot that your campaign just naturally progresses by 10 years. This seems very over-ambitious. All of the published WFRP1 material is only likely to take you half that much time, and it's probably over-ambitious to try to play all of that plus making up a similar amount on your own. You'd also have to incorporate the whole of the Storm of Chaos into your game, which I wouldn't be keen on. It's mostly a lot of giant, vicious battles that make for really good WFB tournament scenarios, but which will seem insanely dangerous and yet also pretty repetitive to individual characters on the ground. It just doesn't seem like fun.

4. Account for what the old characters were doing during the <10 year gap between their last WFRP1-era adventure and their first WFRP2-era one, so that it's relatively realistic for them to carry on in play. The main point of this post is to provide guidelines for exactly that: Accounting for un-played character development, to push them through the Storm of Chaos.

The first, super-obvious step then is to increase the player characters' ages by the amount of time skipped over. WFRP never included formal rules for character aging (they aren't supposed to survive that long), so I propose to borrow a similar AD&D 2nd Ed. rule, which yields this table of modifiers:


If players rolled their characters' starting ages from the table in the rule book, then this is only likely to affect humans, but the rest are there just in case. The idea is that as a character's age exceeds the minimum needed for each category above, their stats are modified in certain ways. These modifiers are cumulative as each new age category is entered. You can apply this retroactively to any older characters you want to generate from scratch, but I think it's alright to assume that most published NPCs already have stats fudged by the authors to suit their ages well enough.

Middle Age: -5% base Strength, +5% base Willpower

Old Age: -10% base Toughness, -5% Intimidate skill, +5% base Intelligence or Fellowship

Venerable: -10% base Toughness, -10% base Strength, -10% Perception skill, +5% base Intelligence or Fellowship or Willpower

You'll note the biggest difference between my table and the AD&D equivalent is that I didn't try to be fair and balanced with the older characters. Youth isn't everything, but realistically, old age sucks. It's possible that some characters, especially puny elves, will drop below 0 Toughness when entering the Venerable category. Assume this means they died of natural causes or something mundane like that. Sorry.

Then there's the question of what the characters did during all that time. I have two thoughts on that, both revolving around the fact that there'd be a massive war to draw everyone's attention during a lot of this period. So, let's assume everyone was living fairly routine, uninteresting lives and then the Storm sprang up and was the main source of unseen adventure during the off season. With that in mind, my first thought is: Give everyone 200XP. If their former career(s) don't make sense in the context of a major war, then let them switch for free to a new path that would work better. Either they get pressed into service in an unfamiliar role, or they volunteer to learn something new (perhaps semi-related) to serve the Empire, or they're compelled to go underground in some way to avoid service, forced to pick up new skills to survive that way. And if their former career(s) do continue to make sense, then they can spend the 200XP on something pretty, as their established skills make them qualified to go on interesting missions.

The second thing I'd add to abstractly represent what happened to the character during the Storm of Chaos would be a single d100 roll for an Interesting Event modifier. This is just something that was the highlight (for better or probably worse) of the character's war experience, some single thing that can be used to show how these missed events affected the character, and perhaps to serve as a hook for future subplots and other character development. It's sort of like a mini version of the Backgrounds system in the Last Unicorn version of the Star Trek roleplaying game, if you're familiar with that. I believe Traveller has something similar too. The idea is to roll a very general wossname and maybe get some stat modifiers from it too, but then sit down and build a real story around how it actually played out. If the group doesn't want to split up during this time, they should look at their Interesting Events together and see how their results can fit together to weave a random but Interesting tale of their shared experiences.

I'd want different Interesting Event tables depending on what the player roughly intended for their character to try to do, based on their personality and such. The random element means the player can still face surprises, but at least isn't totally out of the driving seat. GM's might consider assembling other Interesting Event tables, for example one for each of the party roles described in Appendix III of the WFRP2 Career Compendium. Or they could be rolled according to which province of the Empire the player thought their character should be in at the start of the war. I'm sure there are other ways of splitting up the table options, depending on what the GM feels is most important. Especially close player characters (spouses, siblings, honour-bonded partners, etc.) might want to share the same roll on the table, so that the same thing happens to them both.

(The nice thing about these tables is that they actually work quite well for any new characters starting in the early WFRP2 era too, since every character is supposed to have lived through this period.)

Anyway, I'd want to have a table for each general way in which the character attempts to react to the war: Voluntary Combat, Press-gang Combat, Draft-dodging, Front Line Support, or Vital Homefront Work. To adjust for their generally better treatment, any character who counts as a member of the nobility, a legal mage, a senior academic, a professional military soldier, an elf or a dwarf, gains a +20% bonus on their table roll, to push them towards the "nice" results. Known criminals and the lowest peasants (manual labourers and servants) get a -20% penalty instead, to represent the disdain the authorities have for them. Some permanent effects may be reversible, with the GM's consent (basically allowing for side quests to fix past problems).

Interesting Events for Voluntary Combat
(volunteering for a fighting role, whether as a soldier, military mage or artillerist):
1 - 5: Press-ganged - Re-roll on Press-gang Combat table instead.
6 - 8: Terrible sights - Gain 1d6 Insanity Points.
9 - 11: Close call - Fate Points reduced by 1. Reaching -1 FP means the next FP you earn is forfeit.
12 - 16: War wound - Movement permanently reduced by 1. Swim or Scale Sheer Surface skill permanently reduced by 5%.
17 - 21: War wound - Toughness permanently reduced by 5%.
22 - 26:  Weary - Willpower permanently reduced by 5%.
27 - 31: War wound - Wounds permanently reduced by 2.
32 - 37: Tragic loss - Gain 1 Insanity Point.
38 - 42: War wound - Fellowship permanently reduced by 5%. Intimidate skill permanently increased by 5%.
43 - 53: Sent Home on vital business - Re-roll on Vital Homefront Work table instead.
54 - 74: Missed action - Your unit never saw any major fighting.
75 - 90 Quiet victory - Your unit achieved its goals without serious losses, but did not receive official recognition.
91 - 95 Minor victory - Your unit was commended for its successes.
96 - 97 Major victory - Your unit was rewarded and commended for its successes. Gain 2d10 Gold Crowns.
98 - 99: Hero - You are well known for your personal heroism. Command skill permanently increased by 5%. Gain a shiny medal and a small plot of land.
100: A busy war - Roll again on this table twice.

Interesting Events for Press-gang Combat
(either accepting or failing to resist crappy, junior military roles and cannon fodder duty):
1: Buggery - Roll once on the Odorous Piratical Sodomy table.
2 - 4: Terrible sights - Gain 1d6 Insanity Points.
5 - 14: Close call - Fate Points reduced by 1. Reaching -1 FP means the next FP you earn is forfeit.
15 - 21: War wound - Movement permanently reduced by 1. Swim or Scale Sheer Surface skill permanently reduced by 5%.
22 - 28: War wound - Toughness permanently reduced by 5%.
29 - 35: Weary - Willpower permanently reduced by 5%.
36 - 42: War wound - Wounds permanently reduced by 2.
43 - 48: Tragic loss - Gain 1 Insanity Point.
49 - 56: War wound - Fellowship permanently reduced by 5%. Intimidate skill permanently increased by 5%.
57 - 60: Got away - Re-roll on Draft-dodging table instead
61 - 81: Missed action - Your unit never saw any major fighting.
82 - 92: Quiet victory - Your unit achieved its goals without serious losses, but did not receive official recognition.
93 - 95: Minor victory - Your unit achieved was commended for its successes.
96: Major victory - Your unit was rewarded and commended for its successes. Gain 2d10 Silver Shillings.
97 - 98: Promotion - Re-roll on Voluntary Combat table instead.
99: Hero - You are well known for your personal heroism. Intimidate skill permanently increased by 5%. Gain a good-quality hand weapon.
100: A busy war - Roll again on this table twice.

Interesting Events for Front Line Support
(operating in dangerous war areas along with the military, but not in a combat role, e.g. surgeon, smith, camp follower, undercover spy)
1: Buggery - Roll once on the Odorous Piratical Sodomy table.
2 - 5: Press-ganged - Re-roll on Press-gang Combat table instead.
6 - 15: Terrible sights - Gain 1d6 Insanity Points.
16 - 18: Close call - Fate Points reduced by 1. Reaching -1 FP means the next FP you earn is forfeit.
19 - 20: War wound - Movement permanently reduced by 1. Swim or Scale Sheer Surface skill permanently reduced by 5%.
21 - 22: War wound - Toughness permanently reduced by 5%.
23 - 28: Weary - Willpower permanently reduced by 5%.
29 - 30: War wound - Wounds permanently reduced by 2.
31 - 36: Tragic loss - Gain 1 Insanity Point.
37 - 38: War wound - Fellowship permanently reduced by 5%. Intimidate skill permanently increased by 5%.
39 - 44: Got away - Re-roll on Draft-dodging table instead
45- 88: Uneventful - You keep safely out of harm's way, whether you like it or not.
89 - 94: Promotion - Re-roll on Voluntary Combat table instead.
95 - 99: Hero - You are well known for your personal heroism. Charm skill permanently increased by 5%. A relevant Altdorf (or other city's) structure is named after you or a public statue of you is erected.
100: A busy war - Roll again on this table twice.

Interesting Events for Vital Homefront Work
(avoiding combat with an acceptable excuse, e.g. vital state administrative or planning work, supporting civilians or returning veterans, manufacturing or agriculture):
1 - 4: Caught behind enemy lines - Re-roll on Front Line Support table with a -20 penalty instead.
5 - 25: Tragic loss - Gain 1 Insanity Point.
26 - 30: Suspected enemy agent - Re-roll on Draft-dodging table instead. 
31 - 45: Botched effort - Your work was inadequate to meet the war demand and you were penalised for it. Lose 4d10 Gold Crowns' worth of cash or property, or have Charm, Command or Haggle skill permanently decreased by 5%.
46 - 55: Sent forward -  Re-roll on either the Front Line Support or Voluntary Combat table instead.
56 - 85: Humble cog - You did your work quietly and adequately.
86 - 95: Prized contribution - Your work proved to be unusually important, and you were well rewarded for it. Gain 4d10 Gold Crowns.
96 - 99: War-winning contribution - A key battle was only won because of your work and everyone knows it.  Charm, Command or Haggle skill permanently increased by 5%. Gain 2d10 Gold Crowns.
100: A busy war - Roll again on this table twice.

Interesting Events for Draft-dodging
(avoiding combat without an acceptable excuse or due to serious disability):
1: Buggery - Roll once on the Odorous Piratical Sodomy table.
2 - 5: Caught behind enemy lines - Re-roll on Front Line Support table with a -20 penalty instead.
6 - 9: Press-ganged - Re-roll on Press-gang Combat table instead.
10 - 12: Terrible sights - Gain 1d6 Insanity Points.
13 - 15: Close call - Fate Points reduced by 1. Reaching -1 FP means the next FP you earn is forfeit.
16 - 18: War wound - Movement permanently reduced by 1. Swim or Scale Sheer Surface skill permanently reduced by 5%.
19 - 21: War wound - Toughness permanently reduced by 5%.
22 - 31: Weary - Willpower permanently reduced by 5%.
32 - 34: War wound - Wounds permanently reduced by 2.
35 - 55: Tragic loss - Gain 1 Insanity Point.
56 - 60: Arrested - Charm, Command or Haggle skill permanently decreased by 5%.
61 - 70: Struggled - Lose 2d10 Silver Shillings' worth of cash or property.
71 - 90: Got by -  You keep safely out of harm's way, whether you like it or not.
91 - 94: New purpose - Re-roll on either the Front Line Support or Vital Homefront Work table instead
95 - 98: Lucky find - Gain 2d10 Silver Shillings.
99: Very lucky find - Gain 2d10 Gold Crowns or 1 good-quality hand weapon or 1 small rural house.
100: A busy war - Roll again on this table twice.

Now all I need is for James Wallis to finally publish his long-awaited Odorous Piratical Sodomy table.