I GM’d session 7 of the Steamlands campaign on Saturday (report to go up shortly), with an old friend from London joining for the day. The session was essentially an extended encounter with two rally steps and three ferocious battles. This was an in-between session, setting up some story elements and run to enable my old London player to give WFRP3 a whirl without having to spend $200. In discussion with players afterwards a few things became apparent:

  • WFRP3’s stress/fatigue/insanity mechanism can be quite nasty
  • A long encounter (in this case a four hour session had probably three hours devoted to the encounter) can be exhausting for everyone
  • Some magic is really under-powered
  • Diversity in combat action cards doesn’t in practice produce anything

I’ll talk about some or all of these points in time, but for now I am interested in the last point. We had three types of combatant – Troll slayer, scout (archer) and witch hunter (both). In all cases, they deployed a variety of action cards, and pretty much all of those action cards end up with the same results – damage ranging from normal to +3, and occasionally a free manoeuvre.

Given the lack of diversity in outcomes, I’m wondering if combat-based action cards aren’t a complete waste of time. Not only do the different cards produce very similar outcomes, but the use of cards restricts my creativity to do interesting things with the dice pool. For example, if the card has a line for two boons and a comet, we all expect those lines will be used. But the two boons often produce results that the player doesn’t want, or that don’t matter in the context (especially e.g. a free manoeuvre when you don’t need to manoeuvre, or healing fatigue when you don’t have any). However, if we were just using a straight attack with dice pool, then I would set benefits according to the context – e.g. two boons means you get a fortune die on your next attack; three boons gives you an intimidate check to try and put a permanent misfortune die on their actions; a comet means the wizard’s spell is disrupted. Instead it’s just the cards. This would be fine if the cards granted diversity but they don’t.

So I’m wondering if I should move away from action cards altogether for anything except spells, and resort to just being creative with people’s attacks. I could introduce a very simple mechanic:

  • all fighters can select to use a fancy attack or a basic attack
  • Basic attacks get a free manoeuvre or remove one fatigue on two boons
  • Fancy attacks incur one misfortune die, cause fatigue on two banes, and get a context specific benefit on two boons
  • Comets and stars are at my discretion
  • All attacks get normal damage + number of successes if they are successful

I’m also thinking the talent tree idea I introduced in response to reading the Star Wars game might be a more interesting way of getting diverse outcomes in combat with less effort than action cards.

I might discuss this with my players in more detail.