The following is a (considerably) shortened and exaggerated (fictional) version of my introduction to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 3rd Edition.
Hey Eric, are you ready to play a hot new tabletop roleplaying game?
“Uh, ok…what kind of game is it?”
Oh, its a dark fantasy game that’s based in the Warhammer universe!
“Oh. You mean like that 40k shit? I’m not really too keen about that system or the setting. Not crazy about miniatures, either. Actually, the only thing that came from that universe that I like is that Death Angel game-strangely enough…”
Ah no worries, man! This isn’t a miniatures game and its not set in that crazy future time.
“So no ‘space Jesus’?”
No space Jesus-honest!
“Ok…so what’s this game about then?”
Well! Its got some gritty horror stuff with these chaos demon things, Chtulhu type stuff and you can die really easily!
Oh, its gothic medieval times so life sucks-you have diseases, insanities and corruption that could make your character mutate. You could grow tentacles or weird looking eyes, tough skin…”
“Well, ok…that sounds a lot like Ravenloft from D&D-”
No way man, this game has a narrative dice system. Its all abstract and stuff.
“Narrative? I thought you said this was gritty dark fantasy with horror elements…?”
It is! It totally is! You see, it uses the same system that Star Wars: Edge of the Empire game uses. Remember that?
“Oh yay…more dicepool games. Yeah, I remember that…”
Cool, so you already know how to play! Just imagine those rules but a little more complicated. Here, let me show you all the components to this game. Then you can tell me what kind of character you would like to play.
“Whoa…that’s a huge box. That’s like, double the size of most campaign setting boxes. How much did that cost?”
Oh about a hundred bucks. Its well worth it because the older edition didn’t come with action cards, tokens or the special dice so keeping track of your character and what he did was REALLY confusing. I mean, before this edition you had a character sheet that was like 5 pages long and you had to roll low on percentiles. Now everything’s right in front of you-so it’s easier to play.
“Oh, ok. Well that sounds reasonable…except for the price, of course.”
Ah you’re gonna love it man, its like Middle Earth meets Germany during the dark ages.
So what kind of character did you want to make, man?
“Ah yes, I want to play a knight. Is that cool?”
Ohh sorry man, but Knight is an advanced
“Right. So what can I play?”
Well, I can let you look through the different careers or you can choose the one I give you at random.
<Shrugs> “Ok, whatever you want to do dude-you’re running the game.”
OK! Here you go-what did you get?
“…I got a Rat Catcher. Epic.”
Ohhhh…! Yeah my buddy rolled up a Rat Catcher once-he was BADASS!! You get a dog that follows you around, too.”
“I think I’ll look through some of those careers, thanks.”
<Shuffling> “Well, its either a Soldier or…yeah I’ll choose a soldier.”
Great! Now, you have 20 points to assign to stats and use to buy action cards.
“Cards? You mean like Savage Worlds action cards?”
No in this game all your actions are represented by cards. Your basic actions are ones like Parry, Dodge…Are you going to use a shield?
Ok, so you’ll get Block, Melee Strike-stuff like that.
“I have to BUY those basic options?”
Oh no, you get those basic ones for free. But if you want to pull off cool maneuvers you have to spend character points and buy those other action cards. Here, take a look through them.
“Jesus Christ. Dude, there are like hundreds of these action cards.”
Just look through the melee or ranged decks for action cards since you’re not taking a magic user career.
“Ok…while I look through the cards, how does magic work in this system?”
Magic is cool-and easy too! If you’re a wizard, its really easy. If you have points to spend, you spend them, roll to cast and the effects are simultaneous. One of the other players made a fire mage. Get this; he has a healing spell where he can cauterize your wounds! But its risky because WEIRD stuff could happen if he doesn’t roll well and you can go crazy!
“Wow, sounds…crazy. What about if you want to make a cleric type healer?”
That works a little differently. Priests have to make a roll to curry favor with their god or goddess. Then, if they get any points, they can have their spell go off-after they roll again, of course.
“Wait. Wizard spells go off simultaneously but priests have to wait for favor points?”
Yeah, kinda sorta.
“Ok…not playing a priest. Like ever.”
Did you pick your action cards yet?
“Yeah, I think so. I wanted to get cool cards like Ride By Attack and shit like that but they’re considered-wait for it-EPIC moves! So I ended up taking up some other hack n slash maneuvers that I’m sure will be wonderful.”
Those aren’t bad at all-good job! Now, the abilities on those cards are going to change based on your stance. Your stance determines which side of the card you use. Everyone will have a stance tracker which will measure how conservative or reckless you are. Reckless is good success payoff at potentially great risk. Conservative is more guaranteed success but you could become ‘delayed’ in initiative.
“Reckless is fast, conservative is slow. Got it. What’s with these numbers on the corner of the cards?”
That’s the cooldown number for your abilities.
Yeah, its very similar to an MMO!
“That’s not really appealing. Really, this feels like an overcomplicated version of D&D 4th Edition.”
Oh no this is really different from that. But, see, when you use an ability, you’ll place a number of tokens on it equal to the number there. At the end of one of your turns, you reduce it by one-unless you roll really good on another ability and it somehow allows you to reduce your cooldowns. There are cards and abilities that help with that.
“Whatever. What’s next?”
This is the party tension tracker. In the game, if the pc’s are having it out with each other-bickering, etc-then I increase the tension on the tracker where I can also give you guys Fortune Dice for you guys to share.
“What happens when the markers get to those blue spots?”
Oh it will trigger some different events. Generally, it gives everyone negatives since the tension is messing with all of you. What’s cool about the party tracker is that you can slot some of the talent cards you bought that you’re not using for the party to use at anytime-or switch it out for something else.
“Right…this game is starting to feel really complicated. Like unnecessarily complicated for what you call a narrative based system. This system is super crunch. So far, everything seems to point towards rolling a shitload of dice and reading their results; you either pass, fail and/or have a good or bad complication. Assembling a dice pool, rolling, reading and comparing what you rolled bogs down a game considerably. Don’t believe me? Try Shadowrun sometime. Or D6 Star Wars. Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. There’s trackers for your stance, party trackers, initiative trackers…FUCK! This is supposed to be simplified from the other system editions?”
All RPGs are like that. The more you play, you’ll get the hang of it.
“Yeah, the more you play the easier the system gets, sure. I’m not doubting that. I’m saying that this is the wrong system for a game like this. Like I would rather play D&D than this. Somehow it would be easier. Cooldowns for abilities? C’mon, if I wanted to play an MMO-I’d play an MMO! I’ve never come across a narrative game that was this complicated before. Look at the table! Does that scream ‘simple’ for you?!”
Aw c’mon-give it a chance at least…!
“Yeah whatever, like I have a choice at this point…”
So yeah, there it is. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is Ravenloft + Ye old timey guns + Descent. It’s basically a board game with a fuckton of rules to it. With this group it was next to ZERO roleplaying and plenty of hacking and slashing.