Date Posted: 05-04-2019

WFRP In Defence of Defence

This is the first in a series of in-depth Cubicle 7 WFRP blog posts from one of our writers, Ben Scerri. The aim of these posts is to give expert advice and insight into many different aspects of Warhammer. Take a read and join the chat over on FacebookTwitter and Instagram! Click here to find out a little more about Ben! #WarhammerWednesday

Hi folks, I’m Ben, a writer on Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4th Edition — and I’m here to do my very favourite thing: talk about WFRP! It’s been a joy to see everyone dive deep into the new edition with such gusto. So let’s wade in, sword swinging and… hmm…

If we are fighting, I should really use something to defend myself with, right? Should I parry with my hand weapon, get myself a shield (and then, what size?) or should I pick up a specialist parrying weapon? And it looks like I’m not the only looking to find the best way to muck in, 4th Edition has given us more options than ever before to defend ourselves — so let’s go through the pros and cons of each method.

To my mind, the flavour, the fiction, is as much a mechanic as the numbers. We’re not just going to look into the maths behind each option, but also what each option means. What does it say about you to carry a great axe around? And is it a faux pas to carry a buckler with your rapier rather than main gauche?!

Let’s get into it, shall we? We have three primary options when parrying (obviously, this doesn’t include Dodging):

  1. Parrying with a normal weapon,
  2. Parrying with a shield,
  3. And parrying with a specialist weapon.

Sticking to Basics: Parrying with a Normal Weapon

Parrying with a normal weapon means, well, what it says on the tin: using a weapon — either in your primary or secondary hand — that is ordinarily used for offence. There are three situations where this would likely occur: you only have a weapon in your primary hand, and nothing else; you are wielding two weapons, one in each hand; or you’re carrying a two-handed weapon.

Whatever the reason for parrying with a normal weapon, a Character will use their appropriate Melee Skill to Oppose their attacker’s Melee Skill. This is often a good bet: Characters in a battle without a back-up plan are likely skilled with their main weapon… Or they were surprised… Or they’re too poor to afford anything else! Therefore, fighting like this is functional, economical, and likely wise for many combatants.

But there is a problem with this style of fighting: you’re entirely relying on winning an Opposed Test. You’re also utterly at the whims of an opponent at range. However, if you’ve chosen to wield a massive two-handed weapon, or are combining a secondary weapon with the Dual Wielder Talent, then these may be wise-enough trade-offs.

There are also social ramifications to this sort of fighting. Consider how foolish you’d look fighting a well-prepared knight — armed with a sword and shield — with only an axe in hand. Consider how uncouth you’d be to draw a massive bastard sword in a duel with a foppish noble, wielding a rapier and main gauche. Hand and great weapons are tools of personal defence — they lack the subtlety and style of purpose-built weapons like a foil or rapier. You couldn’t really get away with strolling into a noble court with a pike tucked into your belt, could you?

Nothin’ Like a Good Shield

There’s a reason Humans — in the real world, that is — have used shields since before written records, all the way until… well… now. Shields just make sense: someone is swinging or shooting something pointy at you, so put a big piece of wood or metal in the way! The same is true of shields in WFRP — especially in the latest edition, where they’ve been given all sorts of bells and whistles that shake up the regular push and thrust of combat!

Shields bring with them a lot of mechanical benefits, so let’s take a look at each one, and then address the individual kinds of shields.

All three shields are in the Basic weapon group — so use Melee (Basic) as their attacking or defending Skill — and have the following three Weapon Qualities: ShieldDefensive, and Undamaging.

Defensive is nice and straight forward: when you are wielding the weapon, you gain +1 SL to the Melee Test when defending. This even works if you are defending with a weapon in your other hand as you manoeuvre your shield into the path of any incoming weapons! When combined with the fact you’re likely to have a relatively high Melee (Basic) Skill, you should have a good chance of entirely parrying many incoming attacks (or at least reducing the difference in the SL). The Defensive Quality also allows shields to be used with Melee (Parry), which forgoes the –20 penalty you’d receive for using Melee (Basic) in an off-hand (if you don’t have Ambidextrous).

Undamaging isn’t the best, but given it’s a shield and you’re unlikely to be attacking with it unless you happen to have the Dual Wielder Talent, this shouldn’t sour you too much. This quality means all AP are doubled against attacks from shields, and said attacks don’t deal a minimum of 1 Damage.

Shield (Rating) is where things really shine — when using the shield to defend, you count as having Rating APs on all locations. This can be used to deflect Critical Wounds, and at Rating 2+ (so, a normal and large shield) you can even defend against ranged attacks! This is a game changer!

So, let’s look at the individual shields. Our Shield (Buckler) is the cheapest option — at 18/2, so just shy of a crown — and gives Shield 1. Alongside Defensive, this is already a sound tactical choice: you get to use the better of either Melee (Basic) at –20, or Melee (Parry), whilst getting a +1 SL on all defense Tests, and +1 AP to all Hit Locations when defending with the shield. Even if your opponent gets through, their attack will be severely hampered by this impressive defence!

Next, we have the Shield and Shield (Large), which are 2GC with Shield 2 and 3GC with Shield 3 respectively. Both carry the same tactical advantages as the Buckler, but with the added benefit of protecting against ranged attacks in line-of-sight — the only protection available against such attacks. Whilst they’re certainly expensive — and therefore outside of the reach of many adventurers — they would be my absolute first purchase.

In fact, it’s worth stating that I would purchase a Shield well before any armour pieces. Why? Well, because even though a Shield costs 2GC, a full suit of even Leather — which would only grant 1 AP on all locations, rather than 2 AP with +1 SL to defend — costs 1GC 14/–. For only 6/– more, you’re getting double, and then some, the value!

But it’s not all mechanics and mathematics. This is a roleplaying game, after all — you’re going to need to chat to some non-player characters before long, and I doubt the dandy will take too kindly to some raggedy hedge knight hefting around a massive shield. No, unfortunately, shields are not in fashion with the rakes and rapscallions of the Empire — though bucklers still get plenty of use by the middle class — which will mean you may have lost the war (for your honour) even before you’ve deflected a blow. Furthermore, shields are a practical symbol of war — you can’t hide them, you can’t side-step them. If you walk into a village carrying a shield, folks are going to know what you’re looking for and are used to dealing with trouble. Is that the kind of attention you want to bring?

Getting Fancy with Parrying Weapons

Lastly, we have Parrying weapons — either a main gauche or a swordbreaker — which are primarily the purvue of the elite, given their relative rarity compared with shields. These weapons are fashionable, but also highly functional, combining the Defensive Quality of a shield (and everything that brings), with the fact they’re powerful weapons in their own right. However, both of the weapons require the Melee (Parrying) Skill, so unless their wielder is trained in that Skill, they shouldn’t be seriously considered as options.

Let’s consider the main gauche: +SB+2 Damage with the Defensive Quality for only 1GC (though its Rarity will make it a tough cookie to find). If combined with the Dual Wielder Talent, and perhaps the Ambidextrous Talent, this would result in a powerful defensive and offensive option in combat.

But the weapon I really want to talk about is the swordbreaker. Only 2/6 more expensive than the main gauche, and being merely Scarce, this tricky little weapon delivers much: +SB+3 Damage, Defensive, a longer range (Short, as opposed to Very Short), and the curious Trap-blade Quality. What does Trap-blade do? When rolling a Critical whilst defending, you can force an Opposed Strength Test adding the SL from the Melee (Parry) Test. A success results in your opponent being disarmed, but success with +6 SL destroys the weapon entirely!

Parrying weapons are by far the easiest to place in social contexts — they’re very popular amongst the upper classes, and help you fit in with them. They also make you seem more fashionable among the middle-classes, and help you stand out amongst the lower-class locales. Furthermore, they’re much easier to conceal, so you can gain the benefits of ‘just having a hand weapon’ right up until your opponent has underestimated you and you draw your cunning swordbreaker.

Just Don’t Die, Alright?

Really, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how you fight so long as you live to talk about it (and maybe look good doing it), right? That’s the real WFRP way. I hope this little deep-dive helped frame your character’s weapon tastes a little better, and I look forward to hearing about your favourite combinations on our social media channels.

Until next time, folks!