11 September 2009 | Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay

Rising to the Challenge

A look at challenges, misfortune, and modifiers in WFRP

#WFRP

In the grim setting of the Old World, life can be difficult, and things rarely go exactly as planned. Obstacles crop up, other characters offer resistance, and some actions are just inherently more difficult than others. In Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, these difficulties and complications are represented by challenge levels and misfortune.

Thankfully, sometimes things do go in the character’s favour, whether it’s having the right tool for the job, gaining tactical advantages, or simply having fortune on his side. These minor beneficial effects are often managed with the use of fortune dice. These factors can influence task resolution just as the adventurer’s characteristics and training can.

Challenge Dice & Challenge Levels

For standard tasks, there are five challenge levels – Simple, Easy, Average, Hard, and Daunting. A standard task’s challenge level is a general indication of how difficult something is to accomplish, or how much resistance there is to achieving success. It represents the baseline, default difficulty inherent to the task. In addition to providing a general classification to describe difficulty, the challenge level also indicates how many of the purple challenge dice are added to a dice pool when attempting that particular task.

For example, the steepness of a cliff doesn't change depending on who is trying to climb it. The complexity of a lock securing the baron's keepsakes is the same regardless of which thief is trying to pick it. These represent the basic challenge posed by the task -- how difficult the task is to accomplish based on its own intrinsic complexities.

By comparison, an average task represents a routine action where success is common enough to be expected, but failure is not surprising when it does occur. A typical character with the proper training, resources, and the right approach to the situation should reasonably expect to succeed at average tasks more often than he fails. An average task adds two purple challenge dice to the action’s dice pool.

The Challenge Dice

Misfortune While challenge levels represent the default difficulty of a task, few tasks are attempted in a complete vacuum, immune to outside influences. A variety of factors can impact success and failure. The niggling complications that undermine success are referred to as misfortunes. Misfortunes come in many shapes and forms, but are represented in the same manner – black misfortune dice added to the dice pool.

For each complication that makes this particular attempt less likely to succeed, the Game Master adds a misfortune die to the dice pool. Misfortune can represent a variety of factors – bad weather, lack of proper equipment, being pressured and out of time, the effects of a nagging critical wound, or being vastly outnumbered are just a few examples.

FortuneThe white dice are fortune dice, and represent small ways that things tend to go right for a character. The fortune dice have a few sides with beneficial symbols, and no detrimental symbols. Fortune dice most often represent things working in favour of the character like having the proper equipment or resources, ample time, or a good strategy. Fortune dice can also be awarded by the GM for clever thinking, enjoyable roleplaying, or tactical advantages. Finally, players can spend fortune points to add fortune dice to their dice pools. Each fortune point spent allows the player to add one fortune die to his pool.

Mellerion the Wood ElfAn Example Using Challenge, Misfortune, and FortuneOn two separate days, two different characters reach the same spot at the base of a cliff and attempt to climb it to reach the summit. The cliff is the same steepness each day -- it isn't changing. The default difficulty for climbing the cliff is based on the inherent challenge posed by the cliff itself, and not other factors. In this case, the GM determines that climbing the steep cliff is a Hard challenge, which adds three challenge dice to the pool.

On day one, Mellerion the wood elf hunter arrives at the base of the cliff. It's a crisp, clear day. It's bright and sunny out. He's got ample time. He has a rope, pitons, and some climbing gear. The difficulty of the cliff hasn't changed -- but the circumstances surrounding this particular attempt to climb it are pretty favourable. Rather than impose misfortune dice on the task, the GM would more likely award several fortune dice, reflecting the optimum conditions and appropriate equipment.

On day two, Aldo the human thief arrives at the cliff. It's pouring rain, and he arrives in the thick of night. While he’s being chased by the town watch. While he’s carrying a heavy, cumbersome bag filled with his ill-gotten gains from tonight’s haul. And he slipped in the mud on his way here and sprained his ankle. Again, the default difficulty posed by the cliff or the climb itself hasn’t changed – it’s still the same height and steepness as when Mellerion attempted his ascent the day before.

However, now there are a variety of factors undermining Aldo’s chances for success on this particular attempt. The GM would probably add several misfortune dice to Aldo’s dice pool – reflecting the darkness, the slick conditions from the rain, the awkwardness of the heavy bag Aldo is carrying, the fact Aldo twisted his ankle, and so on. Exactly how many misfortune dice are added is up to the GM, based on how the story has progressed, and how significant a factor he feels these circumstances are to success or failure.

Combat Tactics & ModifiersAdvantages and disadvantages during combat work the same way as advantages or disadvantages work while attempting skill checks or social actions – the application of fortune and misfortune dice. The GM should be willing to add fortune dice to actions that benefit from advantages, and likewise impose misfortune dice to actions suffering from disadvantages. The more significant a particular advantage or disadvantage, the more dice the condition can add to the action. There are a number of possible conditions and situations that could warrant modifiers.

Here are several examples of possible advantages that could warrant fortune dice being added to a combat action’s dice pool:

  • Superior terrain
  • Outnumbering the opponent
  • Strong tactics and strategy
  • Sneaking up on an opponent
  • Ambush or surprise
  • Creating a distraction
  • The opponent is prone or incapacitated
  • Clever, creative use of the scenery
  • Great roleplaying or dialogue

An Angry OrcAnd here are several examples of possible disadvantages that could warrant misfortune dice being added to a combat action’s dice pool:

  • Being outnumbered by opponents
  • Poor footing
  • Inclement weather (heavy rain, strong winds)
  • Bright, dazzling light
  • Utter darkness
  • Target hidden, behind cover, or obscured
  • Being inebriated
  • Being intimidated or frightened
  • Groggy, exhausted, lack of sleep

A Guest SpeakerAs an added bonus, I wanted to share the stage for a moment, and present a guest spot by one of the contributors to the project. Clive Oldfield worked on Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay as both a writer and a playtest lead. WFRP fans may recognise Clive’s name from his contributions to previous editions of the game, and his involvement in Warpstone magazine.

When I asked Clive what he liked most about the new edition, as both a writer and playtest GM, here’s what he had to say:

When I first read the dice rules, I admit I wasn't sure what to make of them. They were certainly unusual and I had never seen anything like them before. And as I sat there for many hours painstakingly cutting out hundreds of little coloured stickers and sticking them on my dice blanks to assemble the prototype for my playtest group (including even sticking blank stickers to the blank sides of blank dice, for some reason) I wondered what might be going on and how this strange system was going to play out. But seconds into the game it all became clear and this seemingly complex, multi-coloured dice system was suddenly simple and intuitive.

The use of dice as difficulty modifiers is a fast and clear way of representing the contributing factors to any task. Add an extra black dice for something the GM thinks is bad, a white one for anything the players collectively think is good. Simple.

And the factors that contribute to task resolution are colour-coded and easy to see. The factors that result in successes and boons and the ones that result in challenges and banes are clear. For example, a hunter fleeing his pursuers might fail to jump a flooded brook in the rain. Based on the dice results, you can see perhaps the task was too difficult for him, he could never have made it. Perhaps it was the rain and the sodden conditions under foot that made him fail. Or perhaps his training was inadequate. Or he simply wasn't strong enough to make it. All this can be woven into the game's narrative however the players and GM like.

Sure, this is all stuff you can make up when you play any game, but the system in WFRP puts that information in front of the players, ready to use – if they want to. Just because this information is there, the players aren’t being forced to use it. Sometimes the pace of the game or the nature of the resolution means you only want to know success or fail, boon or bane. And that works, too. It's an extremely versatile tool.

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Set in the grim world of Games Workshop's Warhammer Fantasy universe, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is a roleplaying game that sets unlikely heroes on the road to perilous adventure. Players will venture into the dark corners of the Empire, guided by luck and Fate, and challenge the threats that others cannot or will not face.

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