WFRP: Keeping up with the Liebwitzs
Hi All, By now, I’m sure you’re all aware that I love subsystems — small self-contained sections of the rules that alongside the core rules — especially when they drive the fiction and compel Characters to action. As a GM, nothing makes my job easier (or more surprising!) than a self-sustaining subsystem that has the Players search out for their own adventure rather than following my lead. And by that I mean it’s time to talk about Social Standing and Between Adventures!
They say that money makes the (Old) World go around, and never has this been more apparent than in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4th Edition. Between Social Status, Endeavours Between Adventures, and scrounging in the mud for work, your Characters are going to be earning and losing money left and right.
However, if you’re anything like me, the first thing you probably did when you saw the new rules for earning and spending coin was figure out how the economics of the Old World balance out. Needless to say, I’ve thought far too long and hard about this subject, and I love what 4th Edition is saying about the Old World, and specifically, I love the design!
Money in WFRP is a vehicle for the story: it’s what forces your Characters to go out in the world, what makes them struggle with their morals, what makes them strive for greatness and struggle against adversity. Without money, your Characters can’t afford the necessities of life: the shield that keeps your foe’s blades from your skin, your armour that keeps your stomach un-stabbed, the surgery that turns your stabbed-stomach from certain death to Shallya preserves!
So, money is very important. To that end, we need to talk through three different steps: earning money, losing money, and the status quo.
Many Characters in WFRP are, by their very nature, obsessed with money. Whilst your Character’s Motivation is probably (hopefully) something more interesting than ‘Money!’, it’s likely that amassing wealth is a key part of it — without money, you’re in a very tricky position. There are three main ways to get rich (and die trying): a Character’s Starting Wealth, the Income Endeavour, and lastly, loot and payment for the odd jobs Characters do during adventures.
A Character’s Starting Wealth doesn’t — as you might think at first — represent all of a Character’s money… Rather, it acts as if the Character has just performed an Income Endeavour. In this way, Character’s don’t come into the world fresh and clean — we’re not seeing the beginning of their lives, just the beginning of this story. The mechanics of earning more coin remain the same for each stage of your Character’s life!
However, because the mechanics remain the same, new Characters can feel incredibly poor, given the circumstances. Consider a private room at an inn (at a whopping 10 shillings!): the vast majority of new Characters can’t even afford this! Truly, WFRP is a game where ‘you all meet in a tavern’ should be followed by the phrase, ‘and how do you expect to pay for that?’ Merely picking up the tab is an impetus for adventure!
I am reliably told by Andy, the WFRP Producer, that this is by design. With the combination of Character Motivation, Short Term Ambitions, and the simple fact that everything is expensive, newly created Characters should be demanding to go on adventures, right from the get go. Just like how a good NPC tells the GM what they should do next, so too does a well built Character inform the story just by existing.
The Income Endeavour
The Income Endeavour comes into play during downtime Between Adventures. It represents a Character’s normal daily life — the job they do when they’re not accidentally saving the Empire from certain doom… The money they make is based on their current Social Status, just like Character Generation, as described on page 37 — so in the case of a Student Lawyer, Brass 4 provides 8d10 pennies.
If you’re using the optional rules for Between Adventures, Characters lose all their current wealth between each adventure segment, so the Income Endeavour is likely to be a commonly option path when things are calmer… And yet, all the other Endeavours are just so SHINY! Everything else sounds incredible: inventing new devices, fomenting dissent among the common folk, and so on. Earning money, whilst entirely necessary to survival, is perhaps not the chief concern of Characters who have just narrowly avoided being murdered by Skaven.
Which, to me, sounds like an instance of dramatic tension! TV and Film is full of situations where the protagonists have to decide between their obligations and what’s ‘right’. The same is definitely true in WFRP, and the fallout from either choice is going to compel additional adventure. Do the villains flee to safety next time, because you couldn’t research where their lair was as you were busy cutting hair? Do the villains chop your arm off when you confront them, because you were busy researching their lair whilst you should have been saving up for a new shield? Story comes from each Endeavour a Character undertakes — for good or for ill!
All this discussion of compelling adventure brings us to the (hopeful) outcome of such action: the payday. Whilst some misfortunes in the Old World are likely to be self-inflicted, stumbled upon, and the Characters obliged to see them to the bitter end so they don’t end up dead, many more come with a patron attached. Often opportunity comes when someone hires the Characters to perform a job in exchange for payment. These jobs are, more often than not, unusual requests in the truest sense: they’re things the patron can’t (or won’t) do, and to which they usually don’t want too much attention called. The more dangerous, the more lucrative.
These odd jobs are always the best paying, representing several times the normal income a Character could receive for an Endeavour, in one lump sum. Whilst the Income Endeavour represents money earned in excess of all expenses, money earned from a patron is usually well above even the full sum of a wage before expenses. It should be — both mechanically and logically — enough money to entice a Character away from their normal lives, and into a life of terrible, dangerous adventure.
Andy’s Editor’s note: Want to know how much your Character actually earns before deductions for rent, food, beer, wine, entertainment...? Well, it’s hinted at on page 309 under Hirelings where you can see daily and weekly wages. With a little bit of cross-referencing with the Careers, you can easily calculate that normal wages, before deductions, are 3 × Status. So, a Silver 5 Character would earn about 15 silver a day, the equivalent of 180d a day. And a Brass 3 Character would earn about 9d every day.
But there is more to it than that! As a GM, you can foreshadow dramatic tension in your adventures by offering massively inflated rewards for otherwise nondescript jobs. An experienced Character would be offended, but not unsurprised, to be offered a measly handful of silver shillings to infiltrate a Chaos Cult… But a contract to transport a locked box to the next village over for 10 gold crowns should be ringing alarm bells!
We’ve discussed how Characters acquire money, and why, as game masters, those methods are all useful to play. Now let’s take all that coin away. In game-design circles, this is sometimes called the ‘gameplay loop’: compel action, reward action, improve ability to perform action, repeat.
Money to Burn
When you head into a Between Adventures section, Characters have an opportunity to spend the money they have earned, and to then perform Endeavours. Whilst it’s a good idea to save some money with the Banking Endeavour, it is often far safer to spend everything you’ve got, because you’re about to lose it!
Let’s make that clear in case you missed it: any money left over at the end of the Between Adventures phase is erased, and you are given a chance to narrate how you Character wastes it all away. Do they spend their time drinking heavily like a certain Human poet and Dwarf slayer? Do they gamble it all on games of chance at the pub? Do they have an extended family to support? Whatever the fate of your ill-begotten coin, it’s gone come next adventure. However, you might have some new money to tide you over if you performed an Income Endeavour.
Then we come to the Banking Endeavour! This Endeavour lets Characters stash away excess money, and withdraw it for future adventures (with an appropriate level of risk, of course).
That’s right, even whilst staring down the apocalypse, whilst running from terrible monsters, whilst undertaking dashing escapes and thrilling heroics, the Characters still have to count their coins, and make sure they’re stashed away safely. Why? Why would we do this?
The answer is very simple. Perhaps the greatest theme of Warhammer — that being grim and perilous adventure — relies on one fact alone: struggle against unwinnable odds. This is everywhere: a Skaven threat that could be fought if the Empire could just open its eyes, a Dwarf kingdom that could rise from its centuries of decline if they just let go of their old grudges, an Elven schism that could be healed if they would just reconcile their arrogance alongside their differences… And in the face of all of these, were they all solved, the idea — whether it is built on false hope or not — that Chaos could be defeated if everyone just worked together.
Banking often represents the banality of the Old World, and at other times the hand-to-mouth struggle for survival, which stands as a necessary fact that grounds the Character’s actions in the mundane. No matter how many sorcerers they slay, or dragons they defeat, the Characters may still be brought low by sickness, famine, or bankruptcy. In the end, everything they’re fighting for could be undone by some stuffy bureaucrat somewhere, who didn’t balance her risks correctly, and let her bank go under.
The Status Quo
We’ve spoken a lot about money — how Characters get it, and how they lose it — and how money combines with the Between Adventures system to create an impetus for adventure. But one more mechanic works to create a true pressure cooker.
The Status Quo. The state in which things are. Essentially, the reason the nobility are noble, and the peasantry die in droves.
The Status Quo — that Characters and Players alike struggle against — is maintained with three mechanics: Social Standing, the need to maintain Status through Lifestyle, and Duties & Responsibilities.
A Character’s Status is a very real reflection of where they sit in the pecking order, divided neatly into two scales: Tier and Standing. The three Tiers are Brass, Silver, and Gold, with each one being higher than the last. Standing usually goes from 1 to 5, though Brass can fall as low as 0, and Gold can go on forever. Standing represents not just a Character’s wealth, but also how well regarded and respected they are within their Tier.
Your Status directly relates to how much money is earned during an Income Endeavour, as listed on WFRP page 37. For example, a Brass 3 Character earns 6d10 brass pennies, a Silver 5 Character earns 5d10 silver shillings, and a Gold 1 Character earns 1 gold crown. It’s worth noting that the lowest rank Gold Status is always higher than the highest rank Silver, even though the Silver Status individual is potentially wealthier!
Why is this important? Well, it models two tropes common in period fiction, that heavily inspires WFRP: the ideal of the impoverished noble, and the concept of ‘new money’ (in the guise of the merchant class) overtaking ‘old money’ (the aristocracy). Which gives us a handy and ready answer to the age old question: why is my noble scion hanging around with a bunch of rat catchers and cut throats?
To maintain their lavish lifestyles, Characters of higher Social Standing need to take on bigger and more risky jobs to reap greater rewards. There’s no hope they’ll be able to afford all those parties and fripperies by themselves, and have to decide what they’re willing to do to protect their hard-earned Social Status.
Rock, meet Hard Place. Now we have an impetus for adventure, and a conceit for escalating stakes. As the Characters adventure, they earn Experience, advance their Careers, grow their Status, and require greater sums of money to maintain their position. Add to this the opening of new options such as safer Banking Endeavours discussed above, the whole system works because it creates tension!
Social Standing, and exactly how it makes sense in context, how it plays out, and how it affects the lives of the Characters, is expanded upon at length in the upcoming Game Master’s Guide which accompanies the GM’s Screen. Specifically, the matter of Cost of Living, and how it applies to maintaining Status! Be sure to check it out!
Duties and Responsibilities
Which brings me to my last point, and the final difficulty thrown in the way of our Characters and a happy ending. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay page 195 describes the With Great Power… rule, which states that Characters in a 3rd or 4th Career Level must perform the Income Endeavour or lose a level of their Career (which means losing Social Standing, which in turn means earning less with subsequent Income Endeavours). This creates a dramatic choice for the player, given Endeavours are already so scarce!
Elves have a further level of social obligation that affects them at every Level. This point is discussed more in depth here.
You Can’t Keep Up
What’s all this mean? Well, to put it simply: the Grand Countess Emmanuelle von Liebwitz is rich, and the Characters are going to have an incredibly difficult time catching up. WFRP is a game designed to compel adventure through every single system: from Combat and Advancement, to money, and even the Optional rules thrown in for good measure Part #1 and Part #2
So next time, when you’re sitting around the taproom table, planning what comes next, maybe you should pay more attention to your coin purse (and not just because Molli’s trying to pinch it).