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Those sponsoring the Warhammer FRP 3e Scenario Contest (see my entry on it here and the thread on the FFG forums here) have announced a submission date of October 15. I’m hoping that we’ll see some new writers and some fresh ideas. (I even hope for some clever new uses of the standard rules!) As for me, that’s a week before I’m running a half marathon, so if I’m going to get an entry written, it’ll have to be sooner rather than later.

If you’re on the fence, do try to hammer something out. Emirikol has offered to help new writers with editing and formatting their material, so there’s little to lose!

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After mouthing off about how the Dreadfleet Captains POD expansion wasn’t stupid or useless back here, I passionately put off buying it for several more months. We recently passed through our favorite gaming store on the way home from vacation, though, and that gaming store has a Seductive Wall of Fantasy Flight Things with FFGTV. Seduced by the Wall, I threw a whole bunch of FFG stuff into our basket that I didn’t need, and the Dreadfleet Captains expansion made its way in. Having now made time to take a look, I thought I’d say a few words about it.

First of all, to its critics: yep. You’re not going to use this one often, so there’s no need to pick it up unless you have a specific idea about how to work it into your campaign or you’re a completist like me. In the box are ten quirky NPCs from the Dreadfleet ships, ten new sailing/pirate-related actions such as “Conjure Wind Spirit” or “Fysh Bite,” six location cards for places on and around a ship, and ten standee cards.

I’m impressed by how much info about the game mechanics FFG crammed onto the playing-sized cards; you have everything you need to run the NPC in a fight right at your fingertips, plus a small portrait. Turn the card over to reveal a slightly larger picture that you can share with your players. Each of the Captains has a couple of special abilities to make him a more challenging combat opponent. The action and location cards are standard stuff, although I’m very fond of the Overboard card with its jaunty octopus tentacles reaching up menacingly from the sea. I am also rather amused by the standee cards. Although I use miniatures, FFG has gone out of its way to ensure that players have a (relatively) inexpensive alternative with the cardboard standups generously provided with each set. Flattening those and providing them in card form cleverly continues this trend.

What’s sorely missing in this set, of course, is the fluff. Who are these guys? What’s their story? What are they like? With the sheer strangeness of the captains and so much existing lore, it’s a shame that you have to go elsewhere to find out, but there’s no lack of material out there. You can pick up the Dreadfleet battle game or read the Black Library Dreadfleet novel. (It’s available on iBooks!) Games Workshop will be delighted to sell you more stuff, have no fear.

Overall, FFG’s Dreadfleet Captains is a vaguely interesting but quirky expansion that nobody needs to play WFRP. If you’ve got some decent reason to feature the captains or would like fifteen location and action cards that have to do with ships and pirates, though, you might find it a good use of your $10.

So, FFG now offers a POD Dreadfleet-themed NPC expansion for WFRP 3e, Legends of the Warhammer High Seas. As usual in the Warhammer FRP fandom, some people immediately experienced searing chest pains because this is a “shameless corporate tie-in” and, you know, Warhammer is the Bible and Jesus action figures are sacrilegious. Or something.

I’m being snarky, but I do get the criticism. Is this a rather gimmicky marketing attempt to get some crossover love between minis gamers and WFRP fans? Sure. Is it a necessary or even particularly useful item for most GMs? Not at all. Will it be awkward to stick these NPCs in the middle of most WFRP campaigns? Of course, especially since the Captains skew towards higher-fantasy content than a lot of the rest of the WFRP canon. Will the product make ridiculous completist fangirls like me rush out and buy it in a frenzy of “gotta catch ’em all” in a way that makes 1e/2e players cringe? Yep, although to tell the truth, I’m a bit behind on my WFRP-purchasing fanaticism at the moment.

All that being said, though, I think a good GM could use these cards for some excellent crossover gaming if his group plays both RPGs and board games. I’d arrange the sessions something like this:

Let your players pick boats via a lottery system or somesuch; I’d probably let a player who had contributed a lot of intangibles or gotten a lot of kudos for RP in my main campaign pick first. Give everyone a week to read the background for his captain and the rules of the game. Play the “one player per boat” variation of the Dreadfleet game. Document what happens to each boat over the course of the session.

Now go back and pick a boat that played a particularly dramatic role in the battle. A GM might choose the winning ship, or he might choose the ship that got destroyed near a rock, leaving its passengers adrift in the ocean. Did the crew make it to that rock, or did they get devoured by sea creatures? With your play-by-play of the “big picture” from the Dreadfleet session, set up a one-off or a couple of one-off sessions in which your players roleplay through what happened on one or two of the ships. What was it like for that captain and his crew during the sea battle? What occurred before the ship sailed? If the ship and crew survived, what happened afterwards? Perhaps they experienced something even more horrifying than the ferocious sea battle itself!

Now, here’s the thing: your players will already know the outcome of this particular scenario, since they ‘lived’ it the session before. If you have a group that loves to enact character drama, the chance to act out what happened behind-the-scenes might make for enough fun to keep them busy. If you’ve got a more tactical or puzzle-oriented group, give them a secondary objective. Sure, they “know” (on a meta-game level) that their ship will eventually sink, but they’ve got to save MacGuffin X before it does. Alternately, you might have the chosen captain experience the Dreadfleet session as a dream, and the players must work hard to keep the tide of battle moving in the right direction. Players react differently when they think they know the outcome of a story, and a skilful GM can use that to his advantage as he plans the session. Surprise excites players even more when they don’t expect it. You’ll also get to delight some players by allowing them to play high-level NPCs as PCs; in fact, I would envision breaking up the retelling of the story into short “chapters,” letting a different player take the role of the captain in each chapter so that everyone gets a chance to play a badass.

Either way, I see this expansion as a way for players to experience a different aspect of the WFRP universe in their storytelling. It won’t present quite the same level of oppressive misery as the majority of traditional WFRP scenarios in which PCs have to slog through knee-deep manure in the freezing rain while being chased by orcs and carrying a small child who might turn into a chaos beast at any moment, but let’s face it…any Warhammer GM worth his salt can find a way to make the PCs miserable on a boat.

GM hall of fame, by the way, goes to anyone who can work a Chaos-tainted nautical-themed pashmina afghan into his scenario.

Still working on the Skaven game; I’m playing around with writing it in iBooks Author, just to see how that goes. It’s amazing how using a particular piece of software for the creative process can really change your approach. Generally, when I’m designing my own adventure, I start with a core idea or mechanic–usually some story element that cracks me up. (One of my early Warhammer adventures centered on an illegal pig fighting ring, for instance, and was designed to give the characters a chance to get a pet attack pig.) From there, I think about how the players might interact with the whatever-it-is, and then I build a story to get them there, give them a reason to get involved, and then give them an open-ended resolution that can lead into something else. This tended to involve (at the early stages) pencil and paper and random notes; at the middle stage, a trip to my computer to use Campaign Cartographer to make some maps; and at the end, several trips to Photoshop to make adjustments to player handouts or aids like the pet pig sheet. With the exception of the player handouts and maps, everything I made was designed for my eyes only, and things that didn’t interest me much just never made it into the adventure notes or into my head.

Notes from an early Warhammer adventure with the player aid for the pet pig.

My sketch of the area and its Campaign Cartographer version.

This time around, though, I’m working directly in iBooks Author. The tool itself is designed to market an idea attractively, so I’m reminded of my audience, both fellow GMs and participating PCs, at every turn. The constant reminder that I have an audience forces me to clarify everything much more carefully. For instance, how much do I really know–and how much do I need to know–about the setting in which this Skaven adventure will take place? Once I’ve figured out the core of my adventure, I tend to get a little bored with the details, so I have a tendency to think “well, it’s just something roughly like X, and I’ll figure it out on the fly if the PCs ask about it.” In this adventure, for instance, I found myself deeply uninterested in why the Skaven would want to meddle in the town’s business; I just want to get onward to the Skaven causing a bunch of mayhem! The rats’ motivation is actually a key question, though, and I know my PCs will end up asking it in some form. Once I’d decided to dedicate a section of the iBook to the Skavens’ mission, I forced myself to define the background behind their meddling, rather than just tell myself I’d BS it when it came up.

I’m also having to think more carefully about other alternatives as I write out the adventure. In Mouse Guard, a “mission” is made up of a mix of four kinds of hazards (weather, wilderness, animals, and mice.) The game recommends that the GM choose two of these to start the mission, then hold the others in reserve for plot twists. If I were making my own pen-and-paper notes, I’d probably just jot down the main two and figure (again) that I’d BS the others when the time came. Yet the act of making neat charts of the hazards in my iBook made me want to be completist, so all four hazards went on the page. I know I’ll only focus on two to start, but I now have the others defined for reference.

Some background on the setting and a map.

The glossary feature of iBooks Author.

The glossary feature in iBooks has also made me particularly careful. I’m making each NPC his own glossary entry, which means it’s easy for me to go back and forth and make sure I’m getting all of the pieces connected solidly. (It’s also making sure I use the same name for the same NPC if I write two different parts of the adventure at different times. I’ve been known to switch them around a bit. Heh.)

It’s hard to say whether or not the change in preparation will make my game better or worse, especially for a Mouse Guard session. MG relies on the GM being open and able to bend; on the other hand, my PCs like fleshed-out stories and deep development of the world’s background. I hope that the additional background information won’t make it harder for me to bend the story in the directions they want to go. On the other hand, I do think that knowing more about the story I mean to tell may end up helping me make those plot twists seem more in tune with the rest of the story and seem more realistic. Because, let’s face it, there’s nothing more important than realism when you’re dealing with talking rats with warpstone guns.

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 second part of my response to that question. The first part can be found here.

Even though this post is about Warhammer, I’m going to start with FreeMarket. I finished reading the rules just before I went on vacation, and I have to say that I really liked the system quite a bit. Still, I can’t imagine running the game without seeing it in action first, nor can I much imagine my current gaming group playing it, even if I did know exactly how it should run. I suspect that they simply don’t like to push against the GM enough to make it much fun.

I often think of games in terms of how much they assume you ‘push against the GM.’ These games ask you not just to accept challenges designed for you to overcome, but to challenge the premises set forth by the GM or the gameworld. In games like these, questioning or undermining the plot hook isn’t bad playing–it’s precisely what the games mean to evoke. The extent to which rules allow you to push against the GM works on a spectrum; different games make more or fewer allowances for questioning in that manner. My group has enjoyed WFRP3e so thoroughly because it stands right in the middle of that spectrum.

I’d say something like Pathfinder Society Scenarios fall on the end of Not Welcome to Push. If I take a mission from the lodge to go investigate the Blackrose Museum, I’m supposed to take the cues given and go solve the puzzles as the GM presents them to me. I’m not, for instance, really welcome to go back to my homeland, suggest that the place is way too dangerous to continue to exist, and amass an army to raze it to the ground. That’s partly because PFS games are often designed to be convention scenarios, but it’s also woven into the fabric of many d20 games; listen to the story, follow the cues, solve the puzzles, get a satisfying climax scene. These games will always remain popular because they allow for intricate, long, overarching storylines; the give the same pleasure as reading a good book or watching an intricate movie. You can, of course, create sandbox games within these systems that allow the players some more options for reaching the final climax scene, but generally, those sandbox games give the players the chance to decide in which order they will encounter possible pre-scripted events.

On the other end of my spectrum (indie games offer even farther reaches, but I won’t talk about games I don’t know well here,) lie games like FreeMarket, or, to a lesser extent, Mouse Guard and Burning Wheel. You have to push in these games–that’s the point. Without players challenging the premises, not much happens, and in games like Mouse Guard, many of the scenarios are thin and simple because the spotlight turns on the players’ ideas. The GMs for these games are told to “say yes” to the players’ demands whenever possible, and the storyline takes its shape from the evolution of the characters’ psychologies as much as it does from the external world. The rules focus on having the players describe and shape as much of the game mechanics as possible. Burning Wheel and MG players narrate the outcome of their own dice rolls, while FM PCs play through rounds of a card game to negotiate the successes and failures of their goals. Players of all three games are seldom (if ever) reduced to a simple pass/fail (or even degree of success/failure) mechanic, because most ‘failures’ can be renegotiated in some way.

In all systems, the stories are more important than the individual outcomes; BW, MG, and FM all rely on players to come to the table with their own goals and use their background to shape game play. Sure, the GM might set a straightforward task (get the contents of the chest in the head Guard’s office,) but all three games reward straightforward and non-straightforward responses to that task equally; attacking the guard or sneaking past him works fine, but you might just as easily bore a hole through the wall or construct a thieving monkey robot which you give to the guard as a gift to retrieve it. Mechanics exist for large-scale tactics as well as small-scale tactics; MG’s negotiation rules, for instance, give examples of how to use them to amass and control an army of mice to do your mouse’s bidding. If you have a character with enough resources, creating an army isn’t mechanically much more difficult than finishing the task yourself, so your players needn’t skip it as a realistic solution to a conflict. These systems allow players to feel as though they have infinite paths to changing the world and those possibilities give them the chance to explore their characters extraordinarily carefully. The downside for players comes when they have an off night; they can’t rely on an intricate storyline or hook NPC to keep the story moving, and they can easily stall the game if they don’t have ideas. The downside for a GM, of course, is that a perfectly-planned dramatic moment may easily get sidestepped by your players. Still, if you have managed to put together the ideal set of players for one of these games, their narrative plans are probably every bit as dramatic and creative as yours were, anyway.

Personally, I see WFRP3e as a hybrid of these two types of games. Since the Warhammer universe is so rich with history and its RPGs have so many entrenched traditions, it’s not a good fit for a “say yes,” push against the GM-style of rules. The players would just have the chance to miss way too much good lore. Further, “say yes” games often allow the PCs far more autonomy and power than would really fit the “grim and gritty” feel of Warhammer; while an experienced GM could keep them on track, beginners might have a much more difficult time. So FFG’s official story material for 3e has a kind of d20 determinism to it, much to the chagrin of some players of first and second edition. On the other hand, that has allowed FFG to script some fantastically funny and dramatic moments in the official material–stuff that had my players hooked immediately and had them asking after each game, “What did we miss? What else was there in that chapter?”

On the other hand, many of the mechanics offer momentary negotiations and “say yes” moments to the players on a smaller scale. The dice, for instance, allow PCs to describe the whole a combat action outcomes without having to know any of the monster’s stats. Fortune points allow them to shift the game in their favor or direction; they’re essentially chits that invite players to negotiate with the GM. The party tension meter, while flawed in some ways, encourages players to focus on the evolving psychology of their group. Finally, mechanics like corruptions allow PCs to move outside a GM’s or a party’s morality comfort zone without breaking the system, letting each player develop his character’s psychology without allowing him to run rampant over the game world.

I find that my players negotiate with me on a more regular basis while playing WFRP3e than I’ve seen with most d20 systems, where the focus lies on solving the puzzles in the most efficient, least deadly manner possible. They feel supported enough by the game world and the rules to try creative or bizarre approaches to the problems in front of them. (For our group, these approaches often involve fire.) They will take risks, although they aren’t reckless, either, because they want to live to see what’s around the next corner.

WFRP3e isn’t the perfect system, by any means. Many of the complaints arise because the system doesn’t commit fully to a single traditional style of play, irritating players who come from both d20 and “say yes” types of games. Still, I think the rules and the pregen material do two things exceedingly well: they tell an interesting story and allow for PCs to develop their own interesting stories at the same time. Most systems err on the side of emphasizing one set of goals or the other; if WFRP3e has proven anything to me and my group in the past year and a half or so, it’s that it allows for nice a balance of both world story and player goals.


 
 

Oh, my God.
There’s this, the Locus from Geek Chic.

We have dithered for about a year on whether or not to buy a GC table. Several of our friends have them, and they’re beautiful pieces of furniture. Since my husband and I GM, we both drool over the GM station add-ons; how great is it to have the GM screen be part of the table!? We live on the third floor of an historic building, though, that “features” no elevator and narrow doors and hallways. Although GC comes and assembles the table for you, the thought of getting the table back down those stairs when we move in a few years gives us a heart attack, so we haven’t yet ordered one.

But the Locus? Sheer awesome. As of today, we are officially saving for it. I’m ultimately glad we held off on buying a GC table after the first Pax East, because we wouldn’t have been able to justify buying two–and we couldn’t ask for a table that better fits our multimedia style of running RPGs than this one.

In other news, I was just reading (another) WFRP3e post complaining about how much room the system requires if you use all of the components in the RAW. We have a pretty tiny apartment, and we solved this problem (and the problem of playing other FFG big box games with expansive maps and a billion plastic men) by buying two Nordens and using them side by side.

At $179 each, the Nordens won’t break the bank, but they provide a large surface for gaming (about 35″x60″); four to six people can easily sit around the table and play a game, and if you put two Nordens side by side, you have plenty of room to display a large map in the center of the table while you put each PC’s components around the edges. Best of all, when you’re finished, the Norden folds up into a tiny set of drawers, perfect for storing cards, dice, or minis. We have had ours for over a year, and the wood surface cleans easily…and since they’re our gaming and craft tables, they’ve seen their share of soda, food, glue, and paint.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with how we currently store and deploy our metric ton of gaming stuff, but I have to admit that everything’s better when it comes with a touch screen.

One of the things I love about WFRP are those tiny little adventurer’s boxes that hold each player’s character sheet, fortune points, stance tracker, and other bits. Since I have four regular players in my group, I store our boxes in the Adventurer’s Toolkit box:

If you’re a fussbudget like me, though, you want everything that your players need in one place, including a small pencil. Luckily, fussbudgety people like me also know where to get school supplies for almost every occasion, so I found short mechanical pencils to fit neatly into those tiny boxes:

I’m a big fan of the little Zebras. They never require sharpening during a dragon attack. They have nice erasers that don’t leave residue when you take a bunch of wounds. They aren’t expensive, and, most importantly, they come in generous packs of 28, so when your players inevitably lose their pencils, you have more. Don’t ask me how players continually lose pencils even when they have a nice box in which to store them. I guess you have to expect those things when you have a game that includes so much Chaos.

As you may have gathered, I’m picky about my gaming accessories. Deck boxes are no exception. If you play Warhammer 3e, you will probably gather a whole host of containers for all the bits: baggies for the cardboard standees, plastic Really Useful Boxes for the small decks of wound cards and such, and deck boxes for the regular-sized cards. I generally dislike most deck boxes on the market today; they’re either hugely unattractive or sport blatant advertising for Magic the Gathering. Worse, many are made of that flimsy plasticboard junk that doesn’t always hold up if you stack it into a box with other heavy things. For awhile, I was keeping my decks in baggies because I just didn’t like the available options.

A big gaming store near us had a display of a whole host of Rook Art Boxes, though, that changed my mind about deck boxes. (They’re called the Famous Artist Series on some sites.) These are lovely. Made of thin but sturdy metal with a hinged top, the Rook boxes protect your cards well and are small enough to fit into other game boxes. At the moment, I still keep all of my materials in the original Warhammer FRP Core Set box, and the Rook boxes nestle nicely alongside everything else inside.

A wide range of fantasy artists have done front cover art for these boxes; the evocative images tend not to be overstated, and a variety of styles and subject matter means you can probably find something you like. Plus, as an added bonus, the later series let you stack a complete set side by side to see an additional image.

Unfortunately, the Rook Art Boxes don’t seem to be widely available on the Internet, although you can find them on the Warstore. You might want to check your local gaming store to see if they carry them or if they can order them for you. They’re definitely worth doing a bit of hunting to find.

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