WFRP The Art of War

#WarhammerWednesday! We are delighted to have a new blog post from resident Warhammer expert, Ben Scerri!!

As I’m sure you’re all aware, by now, I take Warhammer very seriously. The game — the setting — means a lot to me, so I want to make sure I can give as much back as possible. In that interest, I’ve started practicing some historical European martial arts — namely George Silver’s style of backsword, but hopefully longsword and some spear work in the near future — and it has already paid off considerably. Today, I want to talk about weapon choice: what it means, which ones are best, and what you can do to really make Combat shine in your campaigns.

Some Ground (Optional) Rules

I’ve spoken before about Optional Rules, and which ones I think serve Combat the best. In that spirit, I’m going to build off that foundation, and make the assumption that you’re using the following in your campaigns:

  • Fast SL (page 152): I personally find it more dramatic to roll and immediately call out the SL, and that ease of use makes Combat more exciting!
  • Deathblow (page 160): Whilst WFRP isn't a game of thrilling heroics, it exists in a world where heroic figures exist. Gotrek Gurnisson is undoubtedly using the Deathblow rule every single fight, and if it's good enough for our Slayer friends, it's good enough for me.
  • Weapon Length and In-Fighting (page 297): As I discussed a little while ago, I love the granularity of this system, and I feel it really evokes the pike-and-shot mentality of a world on the cusp of technological revolution.

If you’re not using them — and, honestly, they’re not for every game! — that’s nothing to fret over. The following breakdown should still give you a lot to think about, but it’s just my opinion that Combat works best using these specific tools. Your mileage may vary (and if you have the chance, I’d love to hear about your particular combination of rules over on our Facebook or Twitter pages.

So Many Options…

Though not my favourite chapter of the rulebook — that honour goes to Between Adventures, naturally — The Consumers’ Guide has everything we need for today. Grab your copy of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, flip open to page 293 (Weapons), and let’s get stuck in together.

Each Weapon comes with: 

  • a Group, telling us the Skill we Test to use it correctly
  • a Price, which we need to spend (and beggar ourselves with, because we can’t all be Emmanuelle von Liebwitz) to acquire the new toy
  • an Encumbrance
  • an Availability
  • a Reach/Range, which factors into the Weapon Length and In-Fighting Optional Rule
  • a Damage score, which most folks would think is the most important part
  • and the Qualities and Flaws, where the real magic happens.

Whilst Price, Encumbrance, and Availability are important, they are basically what they say on the tin — either they lock you out from using the Weapon, or they don’t. For the purposes of this argument, I’m going to assume your Character can purchase and carry whatever Weapon might be coming their way… however they managed to acquire them.

But which weapon is right for you?

Group: Damage & Qualities

Group plays a major role in weapon choice, and not just because fighting with a Melee (Various) Skill you have no Advances in means you have to use your base Weapon Skill. The real penalty comes in the fact you still suffer from all the Weapon’s Flaws, but you benefit from none of the Qualities! 

What does this difference really look like? Compare a Hand Weapon and a Foil used by a Character with Melee (Fencing), and then the same two weapons used by someone without.

Example: Spiridon Cacchia, an Old World renowned fencer, wields both a Hand Weapon and a Foil. His Strength is 63, so his base Damage with both weapons is +10 (SB+4) and +9 (SB+3) respectively. Spiridon has a Weapon Skill of 55, and a Melee (Basic) and Melee (Fencing) Skill with 20 Advances in each, meaning with both weapons he Tests against 75.

With the Hand Weapon, Spiridon has a very good chance of hitting most opponents, and dealing at least 10 Damage for a solid hit. With the Foil, he deals slightly less Damage, and even less if the opponent has armour due to the Undamaging Flaw. However, if his opponent lacks a Fast weapon, they suffer –10 on their own Melee Test. Additionally, he has a significantly higher chance to cause a Critical Wound due to the Impale Quality. And any hit he does land recovers the missing +1 Damage with an additional +1 SL from the Precise Quality!

Now, if Salundra tried the same, she would only have a Foil that is weaker in Damage, and more disadvantaged by armour because of Undamaging!

The easy take-away from this example is that you shouldn’t use weapons from a specialist Group unless you have Advances in that Skill, but I actually want you to take away the opposite: look at the weapons on the list that don’t have Qualities that you’re going to miss out on, and consider taking them even if you don’t have Advances. For example, a Crossbow is no worse in the hands of someone who is untrained — it’s just less accurate. Shooting and missing is better than not shooting at all, because sometimes it will hit! So don’t be turned off by fancy Weapon Groups; understand when they work in your favour, and when they don’t, and plan around that. It is always better to give yourself more options.

That’s a Reach!

The last major consideration when purchasing weapons is Reach/Range. Projectile weapon Ranges are obvious: the longer it is, the more chances you have to kill someone before they can kill you. I don’t really think we need to go into that… But Reach? That’s a whole different kettle of fish.

To really understand this element, we need to drill into what the Weapon Length and In-Fighting Optional rule really does:

  • Weapon Length gives a penalty to a Character fighting another Character with a longer weapon than them — such as a Dagger fighting a Spear.
  • In-Fighting gives a Character the opportunity to move inside a Character’s Reach, making their longer weapon unwieldy.

Both of these rules well model actual martial weapon techniques — a fighter armed with a backsword and buckler is at a massive disadvantage against someone with a spear, unless they manage to parry the spear and step inside the spear’s reach. Having a shorter weapon then becomes a bonus, and the spear loses the majority of its utility!

But real fights aren’t as binary as this, which leads me to a new Optional rule…

Options: Manoeuvre

If using the Weapon Length and In-Fighting Optional rules on WFRP page 297, the following Optional rule may add to your campaigns.

A Character may perform an Opposed Melee Test in lieu of making an attack, determining the Reach being fought at during melee Combat on a Success. Any weapon with a longer Reach counts as an Improvisedweapon. Any weapon with a shorter Reach suffers a penalty of –10 to hit.

Alternately, a Character may spend Advantage equal to the number of steps away from the current Reach they wish to change the fight. This does not require a Test, and can be performed before attacking. See WFRP page 297 for a list of steps.

Example: Salundra finds herself, armed with a Hand Weapon (Reach Average), facing off a guard with a Spear (Reach Very Long) and a Dagger (Reach Very Short). The guard is currently fighting at Very Long Range, meaning Salundra's Melee Tests are performed at –10. However, Salundra has still earned a few Advantage during the fight, and spends 2 to change the fight from Very Long to Average. Now, Salundra can fight unimpeded, whilst the guard must choose between fighting with an ImprovisedWeapon (the Spear) or fighting at –10 (the Dagger)!

What’s the Verdict?

So, with everything I’ve just said, what’s the verdict? What’s the best weapon to use in combat? Why, there isn’t one, of course!

That is, there isn’t one.

The best bet when marching into combat is to come prepared for as many situations as you possibly can. There’s a reason most soldiers during our own early Renaissance tended to carry at least a polearm, an arming sword, a parrying dagger, and gauntlets. That way, if the polearm is stepped past, the arming sword and dagger can be used, and if a grapple comes about, the dagger or gauntletted fists would suffice.

Were I stepping into the Old World, strapping on my red Sollunder wool cloak, and throwing in with a surly Dwarf Slayer, I would definitely bring more to the fight than just a Hand Weapon. And I’d also strap a Crossbow across my back. It can’t hurt to put a little more Range beyond that Reach, now, can it?

Until next time, let us know your favourite weapon combinations over on our social media platforms.