Continuing my series of posts about the unnecessary complexity of Warhammer 3rd Edition (WFRP3) combat and skill resolution, today I want to focus on the construction of dice pools in combat. I have already shown that action cards may not provide much benefit in combat, and I have also explored an alternative method for setting skill difficulty, and today I want to explore the possibility that the combat system involves unnecessarily complex dice pools with limited value.

The standard method for handling defense in WFRP3 is divided into two parts: action cards add 1-2 black or purple dice to the dice pool, armour adds one black die per point of defense, and the attacker can add fortune dice through the use of talents, fate points and other types of enhancement. Furthermore, the basic difficulty of all attacks is 1 challenge die, with some cards having additional challenge and/or misfortune dice. Thus a starting warrior with strength of 4, one point of training, 1 fortune die on strength and a talent that gives an additional fortune die will have a basic attacking pool of 4 blue, 1 yellow, 2 white; against a target defending (+1 misfortune) and wearing lightish armour (+2 defense) the final dice pool will be: 4 blue, 1 yellow, 2 white, 3 black, 1 purple. The number of black and white dice can get quite ridiculous at higher levels: it’s quite possible that an action card will add 2 black, the defender will chuck in 2 black from cunning points, and the attacker will then throw in 2 or 3 whites from blessings, fate points and other situational benefits.

My question is whether all these extra white and black dice can be just cancelled out, so that the dice pool ends up with the final number of excess black/white dice. This would be particularly useful for higher levels and more complex fights, and hints at a language of skill challenges that is much simpler to express. To explore this possibility, I simulated 10,000 attacks with a basic melee weapon for a fighter of strength 3-6, and checked the average damage and success rates, using two different methods of dice pool construction. In one method, black and white dice were added to the pool and rolled together; in the other, only the net number of dice was added. For all attacks the defender was assumed to be defending actively, with 2 points of armour defense (total defense 3); the attacker had 2 fortune dice. I assumed a total soak of 0 so that I could calculate pre-soak average damage, and used a hand weapon to calculate damage. Table 1 shows the mean damage delivered and the chance of success for both methods of calculating the dice pool, for the four strength values.

Table 1: Outcomes from two dice pool construction methods, basic Melee Attack

Strength Success probability Mean damage
  All dice Excess dice All dice Excess dice
3 0.51 0.52 4.50 4.50
4 0.63 0.65 6.30 6.40
5 0.72 0.75 8.14 8.43
6 0.80 0.84 10.09 10.46

It should be fairly clear that there is very little difference between the two methods, and that even at very high strengths the difference in damage is minimal (less than 0.5 wounds on average). The same differences in probability of success would also apply to probability of observing at least one boon (since boons and banes cancel on black/white dice in equal measure with success/failures).

Repairing combat hit probabilities

Note also the huge increase in chance of hitting as strength increases – and this is without adding additional training or reckless/conservative dice. In reality a strength 6 fighter will have additional training and fortune dice, and will be close to a 100% chance of hitting in combat against someone with a standard defense card and armour. This high probability of hitting is also independent of the target’s physical characteristics: the only way a standard PC can up their defense is to get better action cards and to buy better armour. In WFRP3 the only skill check that is largely independent of the target’s attributes is the key attacking check!

I think this could be fixed easily by making the difficulty of hitting a target dependent on their physical attributes. We can introduce a simple language for converting difficulty into dice pools, and generate difficulties as follows:

Target difficulty=attribute+defense-total fortune

This can then be converted into dice pools by dividing by 2; the result is the number of challenge dice, and the remainder the number of misfortune dice. For combat, the base attribute can be agility and people can swap this for toughness or strength if they have a suitable talent and they are carrying a shield and heavy armour (toughness) or a weapon (strength).

In combat, for a person with agility 3 this is equates to the same difficulty as would occur in the standard system when they have the dodge action card. A person with agility 1 would actually be easier to hit than in the current system, but such people basically don’t exist. A fighter with agility 4 would be as hard to hit as a fighter with advanced dodge in the current system. This would be particularly liberating for the GM, since he or she could essentially dispense with tracking aggression and cunning, as well as defense cards for everyone. Although the increasing difficulty of attacks would mean combat took more rounds, the reduction in management (of cards, recharge and dice pools) would significantly speed up each round.

This change would also put magic and combat on a more equal footing. Many magic attacks are challenged by the target’s attribute, which means that in general their difficulty is likely to be higher than 1 challenge die. Since magic often does less damage than combat attacks, this significantly reduces its effectiveness.

With these considerations I think I have now developed a rounded idea of how WFRP3 can be simplified into a streamlined high fantasy system. Now I simply need to put it all together in order to start using it.