WFRP: The Rulebook is a Treasure Chest

(Part #2)

Hey folks, Ben here, and I’m back to finish this Rulebook-is-Treasure-Chest thing off! Last time I talked about some of the Character and Action optional rules from the rulebook, and their effects, not just on the mechanics of your Campaign, but on the fiction as well. I discussed how every change you make changes how the Old World lives, breathes, and feels at the table, and pointed out some options you might want to adopt, depending on your playstyle.

But, as I said last time, there are two more categories of options to go through: System optional rules and the Between Adventures chapter, so let’s not waste any more time!

System Options

Options: Deathblow

Page 160 brings us the Deathblow optional rule, which — as the name suggests — is combat focused! Deathblow allows Characters to keep attacking if they manage to kill an opponent in melee combat. It’s basically the Gotrek Gurnisson rule where everyone's favourite slayer wades through scores of lesser foes.

As with the Tests Above 100% optional rule, Deathblow presents a more heroic-seeming campaign, whilst also making things more intense. On the one hand, it means the Characters can potentially cut through enemies faster (and who doesn’t like mowing down a bunch of Goblins every now and then, right?) but also means that weaker supporting Characters — Hirelings and the like — are potentially hacked down very easily, and en masse.

Deathblow also presents a more brutal world, one where life is markedly cheaper. One where a skilled Character can wipe out an entire party with one lucky charge, simulating a high Attacks characteristic as seen in other Warhammer games. Whilst this is certainly exciting, it’s perhaps not the best rule for your courtly drama campaign… But if you’re looking to hunt some Goblins on the frontiers of the Empire, well, this is perfect!

Editor's Note: Andy, one of WFRP's designers, here again to add some extra commentary. The Deathblow rule isn't completely Optional. The rule is also used to address creatures that, in Warhammer Fantasy Battle, have a high Attacks characteristic simulating that, even if they may be slow and lumbering, they can hit many targets with a single blow. In WFRP, this is handled by Deathblows, where large creature can swipe with enormous claws or grasped tree-trunks, slamming into multiple opponents at once, even if they don't kill their opponents as Deathblow normally requires! This is so integral to how larger creatures work, the optional rule is actually used as a core rule for the Size trait on page 341.

And, since we're discussing options here, you could also play Deathbow in two very different ways. As written, the optional rule only activates when you kill an opponent with a single blow; i.e.: kill an unwounded Character. However, this doesn't happen often in play, so you could instead activate the rule whenever a Character is killed, even if it took several blows to kill that Character. This activates much more frequently, and is closer to the Deathblow rule from the original Warhammer Quest where the rule took its inspiration and can be a lot of fun for more heroic games of WFRP!

Options: Getting Tired…

On page 168 we get a glimpse of something I’m very passionate about: survival mechanics in roleplaying games! The Getting Tired... optional rule supports a campaign where Characters have to consider what it means to not only be alive, but to be hale and healthy as well. Getting a good night’s rest means shelling out for a nice room at an inn, with maybe a hot meal or a bath thrown in as well. When combined with the rules for Disease, and with a little thinking about Starvation and the like, we begin to see a Campaign where the pursuit of wealth isn’t just about getting bigger and shinier things, but the very act of survival!

I love this sort of flourish in a WFRP campaign, because the Old World (as I’ve mentioned earlier) is about choices: where do you spend your effort? What, of the many very important things you need to do, takes precedence? What good is saving the Empire if your stomach is empty? How are you going to stop that Skaven plot if you’re up all night staking out the sewers? But how are you going to discover the plot if you don’t put the legwork in?!

Once more, I am reminded of the trials of poor Felix Jaeger from Black Library's Gotrek and Felix novels, and in his face do we see the real spirit of Warhammer. But it should be noted that this sort of playstyle isn’t meant for every campaign. Sometimes you don’t want to be bothered with the minutiae of everyday life, especially when you’re playing a game to escape the minutiae of everyday life! Consider carefully if this sort of playstyle is right for you, and discuss it with your group before bringing it into play. With the right group of Players, this sort of thing can make a campaign sing, but if hoisted on the unsuspecting, it can breed frustration very quickly (and as with all things, there really is no right or wrong preference).

Options: Encroaching Darkness…

And then we come back to Dark Deals (which, if you remember from Part #1, are by far my favourite rule in 4th Edition) with some additionally weird things you can do: Encroaching Darkness, on page 182, does two things which I adore:

  1. It reinforces the insidious nature of Chaos, and the slow crumbling of the world.
  2. It grants a normally-restricted-to-GMs level of agency to the Players!

The first is incredibly Warhammer. Chaos often works in inches, rather than miles, with a gradual decay of society, sanity, and salvation. Chaos, in many ways, is the slowly heating pot, and the Old World is the proverbial frog; things get worse so incrementally that most folks can’t remember when it wasn’t always like this, and are too late to turn back the tide. This optional rule encourages us to paint that slow decline into our games, and what’s worse tie it directly to the actions of the Characters!

But the second point is what really makes me excited. I love deferred authorship in my roleplaying games, when Players are empowered to add details to the world that fill it with life, colour, and, in this case, Chaos. When a Player is given the chance to narrate something, even something small and seemingly insignificant, it gives them a heightened feeling of collective ownership over the story, which is only a good thing! Plus, Players will surprise you. And don’t you, All-Powerful GM, deserve a few surprises, too?

There are few Campaigns I can imagine where such this optional rule would go awry, but there is one thing I want to note: Players shouldn’t have deferred authorship thrust upon them without warning. Not everyone comes to the table expecting to be the centre of attention, or expected to improvise. Make sure you discuss this Option with your table before you bring it into play, and get your Players enthusiastic; in no time, I promise you, they’ll be begging to take Dark Deals!

Options: Weapon Length and In-fighting

And lastly for System optional rules, we get a little technical on page 297 with rules for Weapon Length and In-Fighting. Now, I’m a sucker for two things:

  1. Abstract mechanics.
  2. Tactical depth.

These two things might seem contradictory: what with one focusing on simplifying and broadening a complex issue, with the other necessitating rules that cover lots of edge cases… But this optional rule manages to scratch both itches very well. What we have here is a rule which allows for different weapons to be effective at different ranges, and for enterprising (and perhaps overly ambitious; or, less-flatteringly, risk-ignorant) individuals to get inside an opponent’s reach, thus making their long weapon useless!

This optional rule does wonders for evoking the real-world time period that inspires much of the Empire's setting, Renaissance Europe, where the pike ruled the battlefield, and the rapier ruled the streets. This rule also means that taking those other Melee Skills isn’t just a matter of aesthetics and style, but also of survival. If someone ducks inside your Pike's reach, you want to be able to drop it and remain proficient with an arming sword, or just your fists, to defend yourself!

However, this Option is fiddly, adding an extra step to every Round of Combat, and putting a lot more pressure on Player choice when it comes to which weapons and Skills they are going to use. If you’re playing a Combat focused game, or one where your Players are enthusiastic about tactics, this is a no-brainer. If you’re focused more on the social side of things, or you’re excited just to get into it, maybe leave this one in the toolbox.

Between Adventures

It’s All Optional!

Whilst I could talk for a lot longer about the Between Adventures chapter (and you can bet that I will get around to that, at some point), I thought I should cover it briefly now. Between pages 192 and 201, we see what is perhaps my favourite chapter in the whole rulebook! This chapter lays out an optional phase of play, that fits between your regular adventures, that enables GMs and Players alike to generate stories randomly, and to see how the changes in the Old World affect their Characters' lives!

Now, I’m going to pause for a moment and give a big caveat: this sort of play isn’t for everyone, and that’s why the entire thing is Optional. Between Adventures diverts from the normal flow of play, and creates something of a game-within-a-game. To me, that’s exciting, and fills me with ideas. For others, it just gets in the way. Take it or leave it, there’s no right way to play WFRP.

But let’s get back into why it’s awesome, shall we?

Random Events

The Random Events table presents a series of encounters, shifts in politics, or just Old World happenings that affect the everyday lives of the Characters, and the other people in their communities. I love these because they evoke a world that doesn’t revolve around the Characters actions. Here we see a world going on as it always has, with its normal ups and downs.

Each Random Event could itself spur on ideas for whole adventures, and in this way, a whole Campaign could be built around the Between Adventures chapter: the Characters do a job, roll a Random Event, deal with the fall out, and then go on another adventure to fix/enforce/or profit from whatever the event was!

Furthermore, the possibilities for the GM are endless. You could give the major NPCs in your Campaign their own Random Events. Or you could use them for neighbouring communities, and seed this information back to the Characters through rumours and Gossip Tests. With a handful of rolls, the whole flowing network of provincial life can be modelled, and with a little effort, the random tables can be expanded to give even more variety.

Making (and Breaking) Bank

Then we have the rules that govern money: how you use it, lose it, and (if you’re upper-class enough to have banks at your disposal), abuse it. These rules, when I first read them, gave me pause... losing all your money? between every adventure? But I had a good think about what they meant, and I slowly came to not just like them, but love them. For me, they tell a great story about the Empire and its inhabitants.

In particular, the rule enforces two matters I'd like to examine, and both feel very Warhammer:

  • Survival is hard.
  • People are not perfect.

So, why do the money rules show survival is hard? Well, if you wander around with a lot of cash after a successful adventure, others will see this. And they will try to take your money, either legitimately or by nefarious means (often the latter in the Empire). This optional rule supports this happening even when the Characters are not being directly controlled by a Player. If Characters do not take steps to look after their cash, it will all be gone after any Between Adventures section. It is presumably stolen, spent, or otherwise frittered away. This is harsh, and I think it should be. In Warhammer, keeping your money should always be harder than simply recording it on your Character Sheet. There are other Characters out there, and if you are not careful they will take your money, because life is hard and they need it.

Secondly, people really aren't perfect. No matter how much you may want to save up for a new, shiny rapier, the siren's call of the local tavern, sporting events, donations to cults, new relationships, gambling, fighting pits, brothels, or simply living it large, are always there, and the money rules enforce that. By default, all Characters who do not take time to look after their cash with a Banking Endeavour, will spend it on whatever pastimes and activities they prefer, regardless of the Player's desire to have their Character to live like a pauper on gruel to save up for the new trapping. This just feels right to me. Our Characters are not perfect. No matter how much you earned in your last big score, give it a little time and all that money will be spent, and you will likely have nothing to show for it. Very WFRP.

So, we end up with a campaign where the Characters have no ready supply of cash unless they work at it. This means gathering money, and taking care of it, is always worthwhile. Getting one big payday, whilst certainly helpful, isn’t going to set you up forever… This means Characters can be bought, bribed, and convinced to work for the highest bidder. And the highest bidder is rarely one of the ‘good guys’, right? Hello, morally grey storylines!

These rules become even more important and interesting when combined with the rules for cost of living, and the upkeep of weapons and armour. The whole thing becomes a pressure cooker, with the quest for the next paycheck pushing the Characters on to more and more risky, dangerous, and dodgy ventures.

And, lastly, don't forget that these rules also impede Elves, as they have fewer Endeavours that the other species (check Elf Improvement on page 195), so are more likely to 'live it large' or be the target of thieves, as they have fewer opportunities to bank their money, meaning they lose all their money Between Adventures more frequently than the other Species.

Human (and not so Human) Endeavour!

The last major piece of the Between Adventures puzzle is the Endeavour system. What can I say, folks? I just love bundled up ‘Moves’ like this.

Each Endeavour not only comes with what happens during the Endeavour (and the rules to resolve that), but also with prompts for set-up stories, and follow-up stories. I.e. How did your Character meet the NPCs relevant to the Endeavour? Who do they interact with during it? What are the consequences of their actions after it?

These Endeavours create webs of stories and interactions that, when themselves combined with the normal flow of adventures, creates real tension! Your Character can’t just blow up the local bank with a bunch of blackpowder because there is a Skaven cell in the sewers underneath... because all their cash is stored in its vaults! Your Character can’t just assassinate the annoying scholar at the library... because she’s the one teaching your companion how to speak Bretonnian!

This system is particularly engaging when used in a consistent location like Ubersreik. If most of your adventures (and the time spent Between Adventures) takes place in the same city, then you’re bound to get to know it, and the locals, very well.

Options Everywhere

I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick delve into some of the Optional Rules in the core book, and I especially hope it has caused you to think more about what’s going into, and going on in, your Campaigns. As always, talk through any changes you want to make with your Players, and together you can build the best ruleset for the Campaign you want to play! And if you have any comments, observations, or questions, head over to our social media accounts and ask!

Until next time, folks!