The actual rules for WH3e are pretty short. There are only 4 slim books in the box, and only one of them is primarily rules. That’s always a nice thing, especially when there are so many fun bits waiting to be rummaged through. The books aren’t flawless. A lot of the examples lack enough detail to be useful, and certain parts (most notably the sections on advancement and on the three-act-structure) are written in such a way that they end up obscuring the fairly straightforward underpinnings. I appreciate that the intent was to be more novice friendly, but sometimes it ends up just missing the mark. Thankfully, these problems are exceptions to the norm – most of the text hangs together just fine.
The one exception to this that jumped out is in the GM’s book. There are no guidelines for how tough to expect monsters to be compared to characters. Just to provide a slap in the face, monsters have a challenge rating, but it is only meaningful relative to OTHER MONSTERS. I have no kind or diplomatic ways to describe my opinion of this, so I will just leave it to say that when it came time to run my own game, I more or less took a stab in the dark at how tough the opposition should be, and very nearly bollixed it. The closest thing I had to a reference was the encounters in the sample adventure, but that’s a thin thread to cling to.
For good or ill, there are only a handful of rules that you don’t reference off the cards, but it is somewhat frustrating that they aren’t gathered for ease of reference. I was constantly looking through the book for simple, stupid things like “What do I roll for initiative?” They were rough to find, and the absence of an index did not help matters.
As is typical with such things, I immediately took a swing at making a character of my own, and used the lessons form that to help with chargen for my game the next day.
The process seemed straightforward enough: choose a race, shuffle and draw 3 careers, then spend a few points on stats and things like skills and talents. There were a few surprises along the way, though no dealbreakers.
Chargen seemed simple enough that I initially figured I could jut do it on the character sheet. It turns out the is a pretty bad idea – scrap paper is a necessity. Picking a race was easy enough, since there are only 4: Humans, High Elves, Wood Elves and Dwarves (some of them have cooler names, but that’s what the are). The benefits of each race are simple enough to track, though curiously they’re not represented on cards. I worry that some of the abilities might be easy to lose track of, but that’s a bit of an aside.
I was psyched to try the career selection – I’m a big fan of drawing a set of careers randomly and picking from that set. The set I pulled was interesting and colorful, but none of them had any real fighting capability. This seemed odd, but I flipped through the other careers and discovered that Weapon Skill and Ballistic Skill (the two fighting skills) are pretty uncommon. In retrospect, it makes sense: being trained in a skill is only a small bump. The stat being used is much more important. The thing to remember is that everyone fights. The presence of fighting skills just means you fight a little bit more.
So far, so good. Now came the time to spend the points, and this is where the first real bump emerged. Basically, you get 20 points (25 for humans, who start with lower stats). You can increase your stats by spending a number of points equal to the new value, and you can also spend points on Money, Talents, Actions and Skills. You can spend between 0 and 3 points in each category, to varying payout.
For my experiment (and for the players in my game) there seemed to be no reason not to max these out, excepting wealth. You can spend less, but the payoff (especially for actions) is just too big to ignore. But this leads to an annoying mathematical glitch: if you end up with an extra point or two, you can’t spend it to improve your stats, and if you’ve already maxed out the various categories, you will either waste it, or find some place to dump it. This happened to all three of my players, and as a result, all three started with maximum wealth because they had no other choice. The advancement rules give many more options for things that might be done with a single point, and it’s a shame that a few of those are not borrowed for chargen.
Next came choosing the things I’d bought. Skills were reasonably simple, though I stumbled a bit over my first advanced skill. You have a list of skills you might be trained in: pick some of them. It’s not rocket science.
Talents and Actions required going through the decks, and this was a little more clunky. Cards have certain strengths – they’re easy to reference in small numbers and great for randomization, but man they’re a pain in the ass for reference.
So, Talents are minor abilities represented by small cards, roughly akin to feats. Every career has two “slots” for talents which have a keyword (like “Tactics” or “Focus”) and you need to pick a talent of that type for that slot. While you can only have two talents slotted, there’s good reason to have more than two talents. First, you can swap talents in and out as a maneuver and second, you can contribute them to the party sheet (more on that in a bit).
Actions are more akin to powers, and are also represented by cards. They are pretty straightforward, though their double-sided nature adds an interesting twist (one side is conservative, one is reckless, the character uses the side that matches his stance, which I’ll talk about in a bit).
Buying gear was about as old school as could be possible. There are weapons and armor and stuff, with fairly precise prices and very detailed haggling rules. Total time warp. When we did group chargen, we discovered that the encumbrance rules are really harsh (and also a bit of a pain to find), especially if you left your strength at 2. Our archer could carry his longbow, some arrows and not a lot more (certainly not any kind of armor). We rolled with it because we were playing by the book, but man, that was pretty lame.
The book has a nice bit at the end of chargen about fleshing out your character, with 10 useful questions. It’s nice enough, but putting it at the end, after you’re done, seems a bit like putting the horse behind the cart. However, I concede that this may just be the dirty hippy in me talking.
Anyway, once we finished chargen, we had our Human Messenger, Human Wizard and Dwarf Soldier, ready to go. Tomorrow, we’ll get to the lessons of the fight that followed.
1 – Also, this revealed the first real rule problem. Weapons with the “Quick” keyword have an ability that makes no sense. They reduce the recharge times of actions by 1 when you miss. The problem is that you don’t need to recharge a power that misses. So, um, what? I checked the FFG FAQ, but it’s a marketing document, not a rules ref.