Thought I’d have an amazingly productive Easter and post a bit more than usual. Inspired by all the lovely people that decided to follow me. Which means the more internet attention I get, the more I shoot my mouth off. Feed the vicious cycle, feeeeeeeed iiiiiiiiit…
We’re going back to my default RPG system to have a chat about it, because the issue seems to come up an awful lot for people that play it, or perhaps not enough. We’re going to talk about two mechanics that are pretty specific to wfrp3, one which doesn’t seem like a whole lot of anything and another which everyone initially thought was quite good and then decided to abandon.
Talents approached in slightly different fashion from the way they would be in a lot of other systems. When you consider some of the feats available in the likes of Pathfinder and similar systems, all wfrp3 talents let you do is do a few things slightly better, or benefit from a situation in some minor way. They don’t allow the kind of ball-crushing follow up attacks like Cleave would in a game of 3.5. Even compared to a talent in 2nd ed. wfrp such as crushing blow or strike to stun, they are decidedly mediocre. But that’s not what has caused so much consternation. What has frustrated so many players is the “socketing” mechanic. Not only did 3rd ed. nerf the talents, they also made it so you can only use so many of them at a time.
The party sheet is another often discussed mechanic, (or indeed, not discussed enough…) that has taken a few knocks. Each PC group picks a party sheet, sometimes before they start playing, sometimes after their first session. It has a few notable aspects, first it has anywhere between one and three extra slots for you to put talents. This might allow you some extra leeway in terms of what people can benefit from. Second, the sheet has a special ability, which in most cases is pretty good and often better than your average talent. The party sheet also has a fortune pool, which measures how many fortune points the party has. The last mechanic is one that is going to get looked at in some detail, because it is a potentially really interesting one. The party tension meter measures the tension level between the group and forces a (relatively minor) penalty for the continuing escalation in tension between the group. Finally, a rule system that accommodates the fact that your group acts like a troop of randy primates? Maybe.
The reason talents get sticky is because,depending on the career you choose, you will only have access to certain talents, also you can only attach a certain number of talents to your career sheet at any one time. So which talents you pick suddenly become very important.
The ogre sheet above is typical of this, it allows two tactic talents. If an ogre character had, say, a third talent to throw about, he wouldn’t be able to use it from this sheet…
Which is about the point when people start screaming blue murder and flushing the slotting mechanic down the toilet. (Or in some cases, taking the entire core set out to a fire pit and burning it, true story.) It’s complicated even further by the fact that there are several different types of talent. The major three are reputation, focus and tactics, but there are many others depending on your chosen career. Thus potentially limiting your options even further. People are likely to be even further infuriated by the requirement to take at least one talent before being able to finish their career and move on to a new one.
Does this mechanic suck when compared to the likes of a system whereby once you have it, you can always use it mechanic? Yes. Is that a good thing?
Firstly, by not making talents as good as they were in previous editions, they are reducing player’s reliance on them. There are very few hard and fast cheesemonger talents that someone will find themselves always using. There are some solid contenders. Footwork from Omens of War, clear minded, roll with it, to name a few. But even these, what might be considered the best of the available talents, simply allow you to use already available things in a slightly more beneficial way. They are hardly game breaking. The result is players look on their talents as something to give them a small edge under particular situations and NOT to allow them the string of attacks as part of planned sequence. What I find is that as often as not, talents aren’t taken because of the benefit they offer, they are taken because they sound cool. That might sound stupid, but it certainly helps put the role into roleplaying.
A problem with this system does begin to emerge when the characters switch careers, which they must, if their GM isn’t killing them too quickly (a problem I am working hard to create, as it happens.) . Suddenly, you are faced with having a different talent availability from what you had used previously. There are number of ways around this, the first and most obvious is pick a following career that most suits your basic one and you’ll wind up having the same types of talent slot, and maybe even a new one to play around with. So if our maneater were to pick a new career…
Yes, there is no need to tell me that the ogre cannot ride a horse, look at the talents, that’s the example I was trying to use. Suddenly someone with perhaps three tactic talents is reduced to using only one per session. What’s our first suggestion? Obviously an ogre maneater should not become an outrider, at least for the sake of the poor horse. But also, maybe he should consider veteran, a career with two tactic talents and a reputation slot. Obviously this is much more practical for him. Even still, inconsistencies will occur. What about mercenary? It has a tactic and a focus slot for talents and most combat careers of higher tiers have only reputation slots. Would it be unfair to force the player to only use talents he has slots for? Perhaps.
The two things that are worth considering is that aside from the talents and the career ability, there is very little to actually differentiate careers from each other. A career defines which skills can be purchased but in this there is potentially a great degree of flexibility for the character. Enforcing talents does tend to compel characters to start acting within the bounds of their character, it also prevents slightly bizarre and unusual career changes, where someone careens wildly between, say, a combat career and a spellcasting career. The second thing worth considering is that a well chosen career sheet allows the players to use those talents they can no longer fit onto their sheet.
So much for talents, more towards the end.
The party sheet initially seemed…like a mechanic with potential. It certainly caused a few outbursts. People were angry and delighted with it in equal measure and frankly, I’m starting to laugh at all the furor, because now, several years into WFRP’s development, party sheets aren’t really getting the kind of use they should be.
It seems that a lot of people are confused and slightly annoyed by party sheets and they occupy some kind of limbo of either being too powerful or not powerful enough. So let’s have a look at how they ideally work.
Party tension pisses you off. A little. Not a whole lot. You bicker amongst each other and the GM moves it up a notch, ooooooooooooooh shiiiiiiiiiiiiiitt!!!!! When that tension marker reaches stage four, you get a point of stress! One! That’s enough to… Oh hang on. But you don’t really want it to be that harsh, tension between your group should have it’s own penalties like your party eventually stabbing each other in the back. If suddenly everyone was sprouting crippling injuries and insanities then they’d stop stabbing each other in the back. You don’t want that, do you? The tension track comes down on the side of interesting, cute mechanic that doesn’t suddenly force your otherwise completely assymetric group to start cooperating like they can read each other’s minds. Despite this, I don’t use mine enough. I just forget, I guess that’s why I’m better off playing fighter characters or characters with no one-shot abilities, I just don’t think to use them. Admittedly, there are plenty of chances to use it, I’m just too busy murdering people. I may put it in the hands of someone else and see what they do with it. Maybe, seems to work with my online group.
Bloody hell when did this post get this long?
Special abilities get used… That’s really up to the PC’s to do, the troll slayer in our group used to burn through stress and fatigue like they were fine Cuban cigars at even the hint of improving his damage output. Not so much any more, I like the mechanic just because if you pick a good one, it’ll tie the group together.
Fortune points…. Right… Someone needs to come back and remind me to start putting fortune points into the pool because, again, I keep forgetting, whoops…
Talents? Yeah, I’m definitely glad about them. It’s a place where you can put that talent you can’t use. It also means you can get other people to start benefiting from your assistance. Really, it’s a way of giving everyone a little perk and tying the whole group together.
Now on to why I’m posting about the two of these things together and why this post is STILL GOING.
What happens if you don’t use either of the above?
I’m specifically talking about abandoning the slotting mechanic and the party sheet. First, one follows the other, if you abandon the party sheet, you’ll likely wind up abandoning talent slotting later on down the line and vice versa. What happens? You’re characters become individually a lot more powerful. Without having to worry about which talent does what, you’ll find your PC’s picking up a lot more of these talents. They can benefit from all of them, why not? Also, exhausting talents carries a lot less threat than if it’s choking up one of your available slots for three rounds. Also, I’m not going to keep track of all their bloody talents so I can bet my balls to a barn dance that one the cheeky buggers will pull something out I hadn’t expected.
Your characters also don’t have their party sheet tying them together. I’m not saying they or you are going to suddenly throw your stuff into the air and wander about leaderless. I still think a little mechanic that pulls people together goes a long way. It’s got a little reward for cooperating and a bit of penalty for acting the maggot. Leave it behind and your players are more want to think about themselves over the actual group.
You’ll notice that neither of the above seem all that severe. Which means that making the decision is now in your court. It’s probably pretty obvious that I’ve made my mind up, but I can see a lot of people looking for their group to interact in a particular way. I’ll say this, nuking the slotting mechanic will give your characters a lot more ability. If you want more powerful characters, it’s worth a thought.
Not putting this post above 2000 words.
Thanks for reading!