Last night I had the pleasure of running my first ever Warhammer 3 session at my local FLGS. Because my local FLGS is run by a Japanese man in Japan, I naturally had to run the session in Japanese. This obviously raises a lot of challenges, including:

  • Explaining the rules
  • Helping players use cards in a language they don’t understand
  • Choosing language for a whole bunch of things I am completely unfamiliar with

So, here is a brief description of how I handled this stuff.

Brash Young Fools indeed!

The group Our group of Brash Young Fools is shown in the picture, from left to right – Mr. 123, Mr. Shuto, Mr. Ringtail (the shop owner) and Mr. Kaede. Mr. 123 has previously GMd Warhammer 2, using the Japanese version, so is very familiar with a lot of the world, and Mr. Ringtail is a big fan of warhammer wargames, which have been translated, so he’s familiar with the world too. Both Mr. Kaede and Mr. Shuto have played in Warhammer campaigns at least once, so the background didn’t have to be explained so much. The characters they played were:

  • Mr. 123: A 14 year old Initiate, called Suzette (a girl, related to the adventure he ran for me)
  • Mr. Shuto: An apprentice wizard
  • Mr. Ringtail: A thief
  • Mr. Kaede: A soldier

It should be pretty obvious that these characters weren’t chosen randomly – I selected them to give maximum exposure to the rules, maybe not such a wise plan, since it meant a lot more language-related work (and rules-learning). We played on level 2 of the FLGS, and we were running a kind of introductory hack-and-slash that was going to run into a reason to play the adventure from the adventure book, An Eye for an Eye. I’ll give a game report separately. The language problem Unlike pathfinder, which involves a lot of transliterations and has an online wiki from which I can learn all the language I need, the tradition in warhammer is to give often quite prosaic Japanese translations to all the details. With so many careers, actions and talents at hand, this makes for some translation difficulties. The attributes, careers and skills are covered partially by Warhammer 2, which gives these translations (even bone-picker is translated!) However, the action cards and all the specific language of the progress meter, dice etc. I had to cobble together. I also had to find a way to explain all this. I bought the Japanese version of Warhammer 2 but it only arrived on the day of the game, so instead I had to make a lot of headway on preparatory work myself. I approached this in the haphazard way I approach all my Japanese language tasks, and basically it went like this:

  • I scanned in the reckless side of the action cards the players would be using, and inserted them into a word document with translations along the same structure on the same page (you can see an example in the photo).
  • I cobbled together language from the pathfinder wiki[1], and using JDIC and the only Japanese RPG I know, Double Cross 3, which meant that some of the work I did was a little off-beam, and some of the words I found unusual or archaic
  • I assumed that my players would be able to read some basic sentences, so we could work out the details of the differences between red and green cards as we went (this only created a problem once)
  • I did some pre-translation work for the players to read on my blog, with an example, here and here
  • All the key language I used I put into tables of words to distribute on the day (which I then only made one copy of, because I’m stupid)

Based on this, I was able to give an explanation of the basic rules when we started, and leave the players to muddle through the cards without making too many suggestions. For the soldier and the thief it was pretty much plain sailing, but for the wizard and initiate it was harder, especially since I don’t know the spell rules very well and they aren’t … um… clear in the original document. Game flow Things were a bit slow at first, primarily because it took some time for people to work out what to do, and I had to check the odd rule (particularly about magic). The first opportunity at a skill check – getting a “dirty woman of unclear profession” to leave the thief alone after he was responsible for driving away her, ah, business associate – ended in disaster because Mr. Ringtail didn’t want to test out his guile skill; but then Mr. Kaede took on the leadership skill very well and constructed a skill check to influence their informant which he was well able to stunt – I added a few fortune dice to his roll, and everyone immediately became aware of the role-playing benefits of the dice system. They used this well later on, with the thief mimicking an animal, the wizard using a cantrip to confuse matters, and the soldier hiding ready to ambush the goblin they were luring. This was a great stunt, and also enabled me to use the fortune pool in the party sheet well. So in terms of grasping the broad concepts, the players caught on well. Mr. Kaede’s use of his soldier’s reckless cleave was good, and he grasped the details pretty quickly, as did Mr. 123, though sorting through all his Initiate’s cards was a bit of a challenge. The main challenges to flow came from establishing how to use magic, which seemed to involve a lot of different types of check with very little clarity about the order. I revised that today and will give the players a brief list of what they have to do to help with that. Otherwise, we managed to fit in all of the following in 4 hours:

  • rules explanation
  • adventure introduction
  • one incidental encounter with the woman of dubious profession
  • one social challenge to get information
  • one physical challenge, using a progress tracker to pursue a goblin scout (resolved well, at night, by the elven thief with the help of everyone else) followed by a brief and bloody end for the poor greenskin
  • two combats, the first an ambush outside the goblin lair, and the second a vicious bashing fest inside

So even though things went quite slowly in individual encounter moments, overall the adventure fitted in quite a bit of material, and some really good role-playing opportunities. The players have taken home their action card explanation sheets, which they can study, and I’m going to forbid them from spending their advances on new actions or talents until they’re more familiar with the basics (and I have more time to translate cards!!!) Kaede san’s soldier certainly needs some more wounds anyway. Some final observations As I’ve noted before, Warhammer’s blend of dark fantasy and European realism seems to really appeal to the Japanese RPG sentiment, and everyone really got into the grotty winter world of Bogenhafen. They also seemed to appreciate the role-playing opportunities in the dice, which is good. We’re meeting again in two weeks. A few other notes:

  • The probabilities can be a  bit skewy. My goblin underlings concentrated fire equally on the soldier and the mage, and over 4 or 5 rounds they nearly killed the soldier but the mage was unharmed. That’s weird!
  • The rules are vague in places and sometimes I’m not sure whether I’m house-ruling well
  • I can’t tell how challenging an adventure will be, which is a problem I’m not used to. I need more experience with dice pools, but even then the unique mechanics of Warhammer 3 mean it will take some time before I know what’s going on
  • This game is cool! The dice give a lot of role-playing opportunities and the rules have liberated Warhammer from the two grinding problems that made Warhammer 2 so hard to enjoy: the inability of beginning PCs to actually do anything, and the intense, grinding tedium of the battles.

I think my players agree with most of that, and are getting into the gaming quickly. I’ve got a feeling that the warhammer 3 system may be very well designed to encourage the type of GMing and gaming I prefer – loose adherence to rules, stunting of actions, descriptive content and encouragement of diversity in outcomes from individual rolls. It also has the kind of death spirals and critical-heavy combat system I like, without bogging it down in detail (as far as I can tell). I think it may also have resolved the issue of henchmen vs. main enemies. Both D&D 4 and Feng Shui have a system of henchmen (“mooks”) and main enemies, but the henchmen serve only to bog down and slow the game, rather than to add quickly-overcome challenges. In this session, at least, the henchmen were both a threat and easily killed, which is what henchmen should be. Game report to come. — fn1:The pathfinder wiki is useful because like most translations of foreign RPGs into Japanese it puts the English names next to important Japanese phrases (for things like skills and feats), so it makes it really easy to find the right word for the concept I’m looking for. I know Pathfinder well, so I know for example the difference between “proficient” and “specialised” and I can be confident that the translations in the wiki will be useful for me. Then I get around the problem of millions of kanji I don’t know very simply using rikaichan, which has to be the most useful software ever invented[2]. You wave your mouse over a word and it gives you the reading and the English translation, so then you can type it yourself. fn2: This has to be an example of the benefits of whatever licensing procedure is being used by the firefox team. I don’t like firefox much, but until someone comes up with a version of rikaichan for safari or chrome, I am only ever going to use firefox. This, I think, is why Windows is ubiquitous – for years the only functional spreadsheet was excel for windows, so windows spread through the corporate world regardless of its inherent crappiness. Excel is the best there is, and that’s all Microsoft needed.