Following my analysis of success probabilities in Warhammer 3rd Edition (WFRP3) my next task is to analyze some of the major action cards, and identify whether fiddling with action cards brings any particular benefit to the game beyond different names for attacks. Before I do, I should note that there are only really a few different kinds of action cards:

  • cards which appear to do more damage (like Thunderous Blow and Troll-feller Strike), usually with extra risk
  • cards which enable the PC to use a different skill to attack with (e.g. Chink in the Armour, Nimble Strike), sometimes with less damage
  • cards which induce some kind of combat-beneficial circumstance (e.g. Cut and Run) or cause an ongoing condition (Cruel Strike)

I think the second type of card are obviously worth having, since they enable PCs with poor combat traits to occasionally engage in melee attacks. The last kind of card may also be valuable, depending on the benefit they give the player or the condition they induce; but often the benefit is small or could be easily handled by sensible GMing (e.g. disengage for free). I think many of the effects given in these cards could probably be made available to PCs as talents with no loss of complexity or great unbalancing of the system. For example, Chink in the Armour enables a PC to use their Observation skill to attack. We could probably make this a talent available to a wizard if they want to spend the experience points on it, but it would be unlikely to unbalance the wizard class – no wizard can slug it out for more than a round in melee combat against anything nastier than an orc, and giving them the ability to use their observation skill to attack isn’t going to help if they can’t defend and don’t have armour or toughness worth speaking of.

My question is whether the first kind of card – the ones that supposedly enable fighters to do extra damage with savage attacks – is worth using. I investigated this by simulating 10000 implementations of the Basic Melee Attack and the Thunderous Blow action cards, for fighters with strength scores ranging from 3 to 6, in both reckless and conservative stance (one deep). I chose Thunderous Blow because it has side effects (fatigue) and (at least in reckless stance) is potentially savage, enabling the fighter to double their weapon damage if they roll well.

For all simulations in both stances for both cards I calculated the probability of successfully hitting and the average damage done (for all hits, not just successful hits). I then expressed the difference between the cards in two ways:

  • The Odds Ratio of a successful hit for the Basic Melee Attack relative to the Thunderous Blow card; that is, the odds of hitting with basic melee divided by the odds for the Thunderous Blow. This should be greater than 1, since the Thunderous Blow card is slightly more difficult
  • The difference in mean damage done between the two attacks; negative means the Basic Melee did less average damage, positive means more

For all attacks the fighter had a great weapon (7 damage), one fortune die and one rank of training; and the enemy had defense of 2, soak of 6; and was assumed to be parrying (+1 defense). Fatigues were calculated but are not shown here.

For all attribute scores (ranging from 3 to 6), the odds ratio of a successful hit was almost exactly 1 in reckless stance, and only slightly below 1 (usually between 0.9 and 0.95) for conservative stance. This indicates that the basic melee attack is basically just as likely to hit as the Thunderous Blow, though the Thunderous Blow supposedly does more damage. Figure 1 shows the difference in mean damage for reckless stance (black line) and conservative stance (red line). This means that in reckless stance Thunderous Blow does more damage (negative difference) on average, while in conservative stance it actually does less damage.

BasicMelee vs ThunderousBlow

It is clear that the difference in damage in reckless stance is not great, and the benefit of hitting slightly more often in conservative stance does not make up for its weaker damage. In reckless stance the difference in damage across attribute values is not large, and probably not worth the risk of extra fatigues that are inevitably incurred in this stance with this card.

This analysis suggests that the fluff and crunch of having an extra combat card doesn’t deliver much benefit to the player. This card can be deployed once every three rounds for an extra 0.6 – 0.8 wounds of damage, at the risk of extra fatigue; or for less damage and the risk of delay in conservative stance. Is it worth spending an xp point on? As an alternative, this fighter could have spent that 1 xp to get this action card on either a fortune die for an attribute; an advanced parry card; an extra wound; or a talent that would deliver a constant and significant benefit in combat (talent cards can be pretty good). This card also requires you to give up a shield (it requires a two-handed weapon); it’s likely the benefits would be even smaller for similarly “reckless” and “beneficial” cards that applied to a one handed weapon.

This result is an example of several problems that I think arise from action cards:

  • They constrain the GM’s creativity: in responding to the rich range of options provided by the dice pool system, the GM is able to come up with all sorts of interesting outcomes (these are hinted at on page 55 of the player’s handbook); however, the cards tie the outcome of dice rolls to strict effects that really in the end could just be summarized as “+1 damage” or “you get a free manoeuvre.” Thus a lot of effort goes into building dice pools for limited benefit
  • They are unbalanced and unrated: most combat action cards have no rating but, for example, the Rapid Fire card is awesomely vicious – you can kill a great many PCs with that card – while the Thunderous Blow card does an extra point or two of damage and the two weapon cards are weak. Combat action cards need to be rated like magic cards, but they aren’t; and many are just fancy names on a small amount of additional damage
  • They squeeze out talents: a PC can hold as many cards as they want, but can only slot two talents at a time. So players have to choose action cards of limited benefit, while missing out on talent cards that could really reward them

I think then that a better solution would be to give each character class a small number of usable actions, probably support action, that are deployed more like spells; for example the thief could have “assess the situation” which is actually really effective; while the fighter could have some kind of leadership or defense card. Then all other benefits gained with increasing xp could be expressed as talents that reflect bonuses, outcomes and new success lines that the PC can deploy in normal rolls. There could then be a system in which fighters are able to take a fatigue to add a fortune die whenever they want to any attack; and similar benefits for other classes in other ways. This would make PC management simpler without significantly affecting the total level of violence that any one PC was able to direct during battle. It would also remove the complexity of recharge tokens, and make character management enormously simpler. This can all be achieved by stripping WFRP3 down to a system like the (related) Star Wars system.

As it stands, WFRP3 has very poor management of difficulty levels and bad probability distributions, and the cards aren’t much value. I still really like the dice system, but I think the way difficulty is conceived and the probabilities of success that derive from this, as well as the action card system, could be significantly improved. From here I am going to begin developing methods to improve these aspects of the game.