One of the elements of classic WFRP that even I know about is the concept of progressing through careers, the first of which is randomly generated. It’s key to the unfairness of the whole setting: one player might start off as a noble’s agent, another as a highly-trained assassin, and a third as a broke peasant. That peasant may eventually work his way up by carefully trading to better careers along his progression path, but he’ll always have that social stigma.
Like most things, the new edition handles this with cards. There are a large number of careers that players can start with (and a few others that you can only advance into). Players randomly draw a few starting careers and pick one that’s appropriate to the race they’ve already picked. Each career lists attributes, skills, a starting stance track, and a list of ten potential advances. At character creation, those elements limit what the player can buy with chargen points. If Education isn’t on your list, for example, you can’t start knowing how to read.
The player then spends a handful of creation points to upgrade attributes from racial and class minimums and buy extra skills, talents, actions, and wealth. As noted, skills can only be trained within the current career’s list. Talents can be purchased outside this list, but you can only actively use talents for which your career has a slot (e.g., if your career is all about Reputation, you’re better off buying Reputation than Tactics talents). Actions are more open, but are often special uses of attributes and skills: if you career doesn’t focus on archery-related traits, you probably shouldn’t buy archery actions. Finally, buying extra wealth and gear may be a waste of permanent character potential, but really, really helps out in your early years.
Once you start playing, like most games you’ll get exp. Experience is traded off one-for-one for advances. As mentioned, each career has ten advances, which are things like “raise your wound threshold” and “train a skill.” You can’t repeat one unless it’s listed twice, but you can mark off several and buy up one of the career’s attributes instead. Anything else is more expensive, and goes into non-career advances. Once you’ve bought all ten, you’re basically done with the career (and also get the bonus of being able to permanently keep that career’s special ability once you transfer out).
At any point, you can spend exp to switch to a new career. Doing this costs less if you’re going into a career that is similar to your current one (i.e., it shares keywords on the cards). Once you’re in the new career, you have a new list of ten favored advances, a new career card (possibly with different talent slots), and a new career ability.
I rather like the system. It’s a little gamist (but no more than the rest of the engine) in how it limits what you can buy, but it does offer the option of buying other upgrades as a higher cost. It’s potentially not as unfair as previous editions, as every career is built around the same number of upgrades, but special abilities can certainly make it feel like one career is cooler than another. It does do a really good job of imposing class on a skill-based system: an Agent and a Mercenary, for example, feel very distinct in that one is socially focused and the other on melee. In a more freeform skill-based system, characters are more likely to focus on the same kinds of useful things unless they make a conscious effort at niche protection. The careers system keeps players from having to do that.
I’ve already basically explained the way the rules interact with combat. It really is a typical turn-based, mitigation-based, hit-point-based system once you get past the cards and the weird dice. But I want to call a few interesting things out.
The game uses a hybrid of a modern D&D-style fixed initiative system (everyone rolls and goes in order) and an older-school, team-based system. Effectively, initiative rolls are made to organize the two (or three, if NPCs are helping) sides, and then the players and enemies decide among themselves who will actually go on an initiative tick. So, for example, if your party’s archer wins initiative, he’s basically just given the party access to going first. Any party member can claim that initiative tick on any given round, even the member who rolled lowest.
I still like a simpler system of just alternating between sides, but this is definitely preferable to an in-order system while preserving its trappings for those that like them. It certainly makes it more likely that the entire table will stay engaged in what’s going on instead of individual players tuning out until their turns come up or they’re attacked.
I’ve explained the movement system and my reservations about it previously. I appreciate what they tried to do with making a fantasy game that doesn’t assume the use of a battlemat, but I don’t think it was accomplished as thoroughly as they’d hoped.
I really appreciate that, in a heavily-structured, card-based combat system, one of those cards is Perform a Stunt with some basic guidelines for doing something cool that there’s not an existing card for. This does a really good job of softening the formality of the action system and letting players know that deviating from their action cards is allowed (even if it’s not often optimal).
Wounds and Healing
As mentioned, wounds are tracked with cards. Once you get more than your wound threshold, you go unconscious, one of the wounds flips to a critical wound, and you check to see if you’re dying (more likely if more of your wounds are crits). Other game effects, largely based on attack results, can also give you critical wounds.
Healing is pretty hard unless you have someone trained at First Aid, and even then it’s no walk in the park. Healing someone at all is one challenge die of difficulty, and if they have any crits it goes up to two dice. And failing the roll might make the wounds worse. Even if you have a priest, divine healing is very unreliable until rank 2 (at which point it just becomes expensive). You can also buy healing draughts which are really expensive.
For my first playtest, none of the PCs has First Aid trained, and they took crits in their first fight. The chance of success for First Aid was less than the chance of making things worse, so they dragged themselves around beaten up for the rest of the adventure. The next playtest, they made sure they had someone trained and the first fight’s damage was easily overcome, but there were no crits (which would have made it harder). It was actually perhaps too easy, because, outside of combat, there seems to be no official limit on how often you can roll First Aid on the same character (but I honestly could have missed such a limitation).
The wound system seems to mostly do a really good job of capturing how gritty the game and world are supposed to be: getting wounded more than a little bit is really terrible for your characters. I think the rest of the system makes getting into combat too much the default, which can cause problems once players realize how screwed they are once they take damage, but that’s not the wound system’s fault.
The wound system is just there, being perfectly appropriate, wondering why PCs keep getting into fights all the time. Seriously…they could die.