NOTE: Recently, people have been asking how WFRP3e looks to people now that the game has been around for a couple of years. This is the first part of my response to that question.
Anyone who’s ever looked at third edition Warhammer FRP knows it’s a game with a lot of stuff. Piles of cards in multiple sizes track abilities, wounds, corruptions and party skills. Larger placard cards describe your character class, track the party tension, serve as maps, and sometimes contain pregen player handouts. Cardboard standees accompany the boxed sets to take the place of miniatures. Cardboard puzzle pieces snap together to represent your PC’s emotional control during battle. Small triangle-shaped tokens adorned with a cheerful little skull icon track…well, a bunch of junk, really. Top it all off with little paper character sheets and a bazillion colored dice for good measure.
Many of 3e’s angriest critics go completely insane over the sheer mass of stuff. They accuse 3e of being a board game. They have meltdowns about the fact that you can’t play while camping in a remote, rustic location in the mountains during a rainstorm. They claim that their friends will spill beer on a crucial component and ruin the whole expensive set. One or two even hysterically claim that no table exists that can hold all of FFG’s ephemera.
More reasonable critics point out that tracking so much stuff takes up too much time and distracts players from immersing themselves fully in the story; after all, if you’re busy moving your fortune tokens around and checking the Party Tension sheet to see whether your characters have moved from “Aggravated” to “Terribly Irritated By the Sound of Each Other’s Voices,” you might actually miss the excellent nuance as the GM sets the scene. It can get even worse if you are the GM and miss the scene altogether because you were busy moving the token one more space on the Party Tension track to “Passive Aggressively Making Jokes about Each Other’s Clothing.”
Despite the fact that WFRP boxes take up an inordinate amount of space in our tiny apartment, I can say that I really don’t think I’d like WFRP3e nearly as much without all of its bits. That’s not because I use all that junk–I’m far too scatterbrained to keep up with the basic necessities of a campaign, much less hundreds of additional data points. Generally, I pick and choose what I’ll use for each session, and then I promptly forget to track half of the things I so thoughtfully chose. Each time I open a supplement, though, and I see the new tracking stuff–because there’s always new tracking stuff–I find myself drawn into deeply considering elements of game design. I take out the items, look at them carefully, read all the details, turn all the bits over in my hands, and shuffle them about on the table for a bit. Many of them go back into their boxes and never get used. Some of them come out for one or two sessions in which they seem particularly useful, then go back again until they’re needed. A few become a constant part of our play.
Ultimately, though, I’d say that all of the stuff ends up making me a better GM. I may not choose to use the additional rules and details, but they give me options and remind me of new ways to challenge my players. I tend to learn better when I see and can manipulate a visual representation of an abstract idea, so the physical objects mean that I understand the supplementary rules far better than I would if they were thrown into charts or exhaustively detailed lists like in so many d20 books. I come away feeling that I fully comprehend the new rules’ implications for my campaign, and I’m also more likely to be able to tweak, change, shape, and rewrite those rules for my own stories–or make a solid choice to ignore them because I know that they won’t help my party’s particular play style or in-game goals.
Many people wring their hands about the advent of these “hybrid” RPGs because they claim they’ve dumbed down systems that they’ve loved for years. I think not. They’re just delivering the same material in a different way. Fortunately or un-, it may mean that people whose modes of learning were already privileged by the hobby are suddenly finding these rulesets frustrating to use, which can seem particularly alienating when the franchise is an old standard like WPRP. I’d argue, though, that such changes keep the hobby alive and well. They bring in new types of players and GMs who add perspectives to our habits of collective storytelling. Since our hobby is about experiencing narratives from new viewpoints, the more viewpoints we can include, the better. There probably won’t be room for all types of players at your gaming table (especially if it’s already crammed with 3e stuff!), but if new types of players out write supplements, contribute to forums, and give their feedback on game design, we’ll end up with a richer tapestry of both fluff and crunch to inform our own storytelling.